By: USA Games Correspondent, Mike Gastineau
Ask anyone who works within Special Olympics and they’ll tell you that a key element to continued success within the organization is the work done by volunteers. Every day, in cities and towns throughout America, Special Olympics employees count on people who are willing to do the work required to keep things moving forward without asking for a paycheck.
“Our lifeblood is all of our volunteers,” said St. Louis metro area program director Jocelyn Diehl. “But when you get someone who is interested in helping at the next level, that’s going above and beyond.”
Diehl is speaking of Audrey Verret who she nominated for recognition by the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in our #ImAGameChanger campaign.
Verret first got involved with Special Olympics as a college student at Washington State University. After college, she lived in Los Angeles and worked as a volunteer there for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. She helped out with other Special Olympics activities in Southern California and when her career took her to a new job in St. Louis, she immediately began to look for ways to join Special Olympics Missouri.
“For someone to be so passionate about an organization that they actively seek you out after moving is inspiring,” Diehl said. She thinks there were pragmatic reasons for Verret to continue working with Special Olympics.
“She didn’t know anyone here and I think she thought this was a good way to connect with a similar community to what she had in Los Angeles. She’s created friends and family through her relationships with people in Special Olympics. It’s benefitted her but it’s also benefitted us with all she’s done.”
What she’s done is remarkable.
Verret is the Employee Engagement and Culture Specialist for the Moneta Group, a St. Louis based wealth management firm. One of the first things she did for Special Olympics Missouri was to get her new company financially involved.
“They became involved with us because of Audrey,” Diehl said. “She brought her passion for what we do to her role with Moneta Group and they are now incredibly supportive of our programs.”
The Moneta Group’s support extends beyond Missouri. When the volunteer positions for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria were posted, Verret immediately signed up to help.
“She got a position, booked her air travel, and found a place to stay,” Diehl said. “But then, her father passed away and she was suddenly facing a bit of a financial crunch.”
That issue was solved when her co-workers at the Moneta Group stepped in and financially backed her trip to Austria so she could still go.
“Even though it was taking time away from her work they understood that it had a bigger meaning and was really important to her.”
Board members of the internal Moneta Group Charitable Foundation were also impressed enough with her love of Special Olympics to award the Missouri program with one of their primary $25,000 grants in 2016. Diehl says the money allowed for immediate improvement in the group’s outreach to local athletes and the quality of local programming.
Verret’s support of Special Olympics Missouri is more than just connecting them to financial resources. Diehl said she runs events, sits on committees, and actively solicits support from other community members. She’s also gotten involved at a very personal level.
“She took on a mentorship with one of our athletes,” Diehl said. “They go to classes together and work together on the assignments. His name is Daxton and watching them interact is very humorous. One of the classes they went through was a finance class and since they took that she’s always teasing him about blowing all his money at casinos.”
Diehl said she thinks the key to Verret’s relationship with Daxton and all the athletes she works with in the Missouri program is how she interacts with them.
“Many people have a tendency to talk to our athletes like they are children even if they are adults. They may not know how to talk to people with intellectual disabilities. Audrey interacts with our athletes like she does with any of her friends or any person she talks to. That’s a big reason she’s able to connect so easily with them.”
That’s a fundamental aspect of inclusion and by doing the things she’s doing, Verret is changing the game for Daxton, and many other Missouri athletes.