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Special Olympics a longtime passion for Teresa Simons

November 22, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. – It didn’t take long for Teresa Simons to start talking about the Special Olympics on Monday afternoon at the Barnes Street Activity Center.

Simons, who has been working for the city for 30 years, also assists with putting on the Special Olympics of the Pee Dee each year. She wants to get the word out that the Special Olympics needs volunteers to serve as coaches and to serve on the local steering committee and that funds are always needed and appreciated. The 2019 games will be moving from Darlington High School to West Florence High School.

After a few minutes of talking about the Special Olympics, she discussed her involvement with some reluctance.

“What I’ve done the last few years is – like I said, we make 800 sandwiches— and up until two years ago, Pepsi and Pee Dee Foods donated all of the food products, and that was through the Civitans,” Simons said. “The Civitans have been buying all of the groceries, and we would all get together to stuff them in brown bags. So what I’ve been doing is that. The last two years, I’ve discovered the ladies at Central United Methodist who are working in the kitchen and we get together.”

The women from Central make the food, and the bags are stuffed by students and then distributed to participants.

Simons said she became involved with the Special Olympics while working for the city as a student at Francis Marion University in 1975. She had come back to Francis Marion and Florence after working for two years in a doctor’s office in Atlanta after graduating from a two-year school in North Carolina.

The Special Olympics and people with special needs have been a lifelong passion of hers.

“When I was in high school, I thought that I wanted to work with special needs and I went with my parents to a place called Holy Angels Nursery,” Simons said. “It was at Sacred Heart College in Belmont, N.C. There was a nursery there of people who were afflicted with Down syndrome.”

Down syndrome is thought to be caused by the presence of an extra copy of the 21st chromosome, which creates physical growth delays, intellectual disabilities and facial features that are characteristic of the condition.

Simon’s father, a Marine, was able to work with and spend time with eight to 10 children there.

“It just touched my heart so much that my dad could be so soft and loving to these little people,” Simons continued. “There was such a happiness about them. They wanted to please you. They wanted to be around you. They wanted to do things with you. They wanted to be around you.”

In her 30 years, Simons has seen quite a few inspirational stories. One that stands out is April Sylvester, who has died. Sylvester was afflicted with severe mental retardation and several physical problems, but she always kept a job. Her family was wealthy, so such work was hardly needed or expected, but Simons said Sylvester wanted to be a part of what was going on in the community.

“She was a real inspiration,” Simons said.

Another friend of Simons just watched her daughter win a Special Olympics skiing contest.

“There’s a real enthusiasm about them that I like,” Simons said.

Her career working with the city’s recreation department dovetails with her interest in the Special Olympics. She added that the city was all about making sure that the quality of life of its residents is better. Simons helps organize special events for the city, including the kids zone at the South Carolina Pecan Festival, a storytelling event and the kids area at the Florence After Five.

Simons was honored by the city this month for her service.

She came to Florence the first time with her parents when she was 8 or 9 years old. Her father came to Florence from Alabama to work at the paper mill.

To get involved with the Special Olympics, visit so-sc.org.

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