Ever since she was young, Special Olympics has played a huge role in Lauren McClusky’s life. Her dad, Jeff McClusky (Illinois Special Olympics Foundation Board Member), worked on the Special Christmas compilation CDs when she was growing up, which started their family’s involvement. Lauren’s sister and her began fundraising for Special Olympics with lemonade stands in their front yard in Evanston. They volunteered at games in Chicago, Bloomington, and even got to travel to the games in Alaska, Ireland, and China, where they made many friends along the way!
In the Fall of 2002, Lauren’s dad and her traveled to China with the Special Olympics Washington D.C. group (including Timothy Shriver) for their first National games in Xi’an. They attended receptions, visited the Great Wall, and experienced much of the Chinese culture in Beijing before traveling to Central China. At a press conference during their trip, she donated the money raised from her sister and her lemonade stands. A news publication in China printed an article about it the following month, calling Lauren the “Blonde Girl from California, America.” The trip was a life changing experience and gave her further enthusiasm and love towards the athletes of Special Olympics.
When Lauren was in High School in 2007, her friends and her decided to throw somewhat of a “battle of the bands” style concert to raise money and awareness for the organization. They partnered with Metro Chicago and Special Olympics Illinois. Their first year, they successfully raised $10K and had 800 attendees on a Sunday afternoon. This event, originally called McFest and now Nelarusky, has grown into an Annual Official Lollapalooza Aftershow that has raised nearly $400K over the last 13 years. Nationally renowned acts such as Imagine Dragons, Alabama Shakes, Icona Pop, Sylvan Esso, Jon Bellion, Quinn XCII, and many more have played to a sold out crowd of 1150 attendees, who are not only there to watch a concert, but to support and learn more about Special Olympics Illinois.
Special Olympics Illinois Global Messenger’s Barbara Kozdron and Christine Maxwell alternate giving a heartfelt speech each year that is always received with applause and tears of joy. It is hands down the most special part of the event. Feeling the happiness and excitement over Special Olympics Illinois coming not only from Barb and Christine, but from the audience members, is truly an incredible thing.
Special Olympics has changed Lauren’s life in many ways. It has given her lifelong friends among the athletes (Barb, Christine, Sofia, Bree, Dustin, and so many more!), experiences all over the world, and Nelarusky. She is grateful to be able to give back to an organization that has touched her heart for all her life.