The Value of Family Is the Best Gift to Give This Holiday Season

In November 1998, Stephen and Carol Anne Steiner of Crystal Lake, Illinois, received a phone call that changed their lives forever. Without any hesitation, their answer was “yes, absolutely.” On Jan. 27, 1999, Stephen and Carol Anne flew to St. Louis, Missouri. By that evening, they had a beautiful one-year-old boy in their arms that they were ready to take home. Although the adoption wasn’t finalized until July 1999, Carol Anne and Stephen knew that “he was ours from day one.”

That boy was Jonathan Steiner. Now 23 years old, Jonathan is a sociable, kind, and respectful college student; and talented eight-sport Special Olympics athlete.

Jonathan began competing with Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association (NISRA) in Crystal Lake as a Young Athlete, when he was seven years old. At eight years old, Jonathan’s first traditional Special Olympics sport was tennis. As he grew older, he began to join more team sports and soon enough, his schedule was jam-packed. Along with tennis, Jonathan now competes in basketball, bocce, flag football, golf, soccer, softball, and volleyball. Jonathan has earned numerous medals and more than five State Championship titles.

Jonathan is currently working on the curriculum to become a Special Olympics Athlete Leader. Athlete leader training focuses on awareness and listening skills for not only athletes, but also for volunteers, staff, and family members with whom they interact.

Additionally, Jonathan takes courses at McHenry Community College (MCC) and serves as a Sports Manager for all of their athletic teams. He recently received the Athletic Special Recognition Award from MCC for his spirit, camaraderie, and dedication to the MCC athletes and the entire athletic department.

Through Jonathan’s involvement in Special Olympics Illinois, he has developed social skills that make him a very popular and respected athlete, on and off the court, not only by other athletes, but also by coaches. Jonathan has created new friendships with his teammates, and even some of his competitors as well. His outgoing and kind-hearted spirit is hard to forget, and anyone can bet that they will receive a warm smile and great conversation when seeing Jonathan. Just like with the athletes at MCC, Jonathan is the biggest cheerleader for all of his fellow Special Olympics athletes.

Shockingly, life has not always been happiness and high fives for Jonathan or his family. According to his parents, Jonathan is now a “totally different person” than he was before joining Special Olympics Illinois. When he was younger, Jonathan exhibited behavioral issues and poor social skills. It was suggested from his therapists that getting him into sports might help.

When Jonathan first started participating with NISRA in Special Olympics sports, he didn’t enjoy being with his teammates and he didn’t know how to accept losing. He would easily get angry and at times become physically aggressive, especially after a loss. After time, through continuing with competition, and with help from his parents and coaches, Jonathan’s behaviors started to dissipate. He now loves being a part of a team and understands that “it’s about if I give my best efforts, don’t give up, and most importantly, have fun doing it. After a while I realized that’s what truly matters more than getting a gold medal, or an A in a class, or being the best in a competition.”

Not only did being involved with NISRA and Special Olympics help Jonathan with his social skills and behavioral issues, but it also helped him understand the importance of structure, relationship building, and family. It was only after seeing his teammates with their parents and siblings that Jonathan started to understand the concept of having a family. Before then, Jonathan thought that he was with Carol Anne and Stephen all the time because they lived in the same house.

Meeting other Special Olympics families was also a huge help for Carol Anne and Stephen. For them, it was comforting to talk with other parents who could relate and were experiencing similar situations and struggles in their lives.

Jonathan is not hesitant to acknowledge that he would not be the person he is today without the help of his parents, coaches, teachers, friends and supporters throughout the years. It’s clear that Jonathan is a great role model and will have many more successes to come in his life. He is currently studying Therapeutic Recreation, as his goal is to become a Recreational Therapist so he can give back to others because he feels that so many others have given so much to him.

Jonathan has so much spirit, and his spirit of giving is contagious. During the holidays, please join Six Flags Great America in celebrating athletes like Jonathan Steiner and the value of the many different “families” that he has in his life. None more important than that of his parents, Stephen and Carol Anne.

Between November 27 and December 30, Six Flags Great America will support Special Olympics Illinois through a “Round Up at the Register” campaign during their annual Holiday in the Park lights experience.

During that time, guests will be able to round up their change during their purchase at any retail location to support athletes like Jonathan. Now in its third season, Holiday in the Park has been re-imagined as a socially-distanced, walk-through experience for the family featuring over 2.5 million dazzling lights plus entertainment. For more information, please visit