Birds of a Feather: One Hour Changes 2020 for These Athletes, Families

Many around the world were presented a new challenge in 2020 – how to connect with friends during this difficult time. For this group of Special Olympics Illinois families, the solution was a weekly, virtual Happy Hour.

The Taylor family officially started Happy Hour Zoom calls on Friday, March 27, 2020, in the hopes of connecting with friends while staying safe during the pandemic. Included was a group of friends that have known each other for more than a decade.

For nearly 17 months, eight different SOILL families gathered each Friday with their favorite drinks and foods in hand. As the weeks passed, one of the attending athletes proposed creating themes for each call. From then on out, each call included costumes and signs. The friends celebrated birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions together as well. Eventually, the group even added in a “question of the day” in an effort to hear more about the group members’ daily lives.

For the families that participated, the virtual Happy Hour meetings were a blessing. It became something to look forward to – Fridays at 5:00 PM where they would share smiles and laughs with one another. Each family was impacted in many ways.

For the Meza family, these Zoom meetings were a gift. Nearly four years ago, Cindy and Liam Meza moved from Illinois to Arkansas. When COVID-19 hit, they were thrilled to be able to reconnect with all of their friends in Illinois who they had not seen in years. It was a great reminder of the friendships that Special Olympics Illinois helped them create.

Another family that was a part of each Happy Hour call was Lisa and her daughter, Emily. They always tried to be the first ones on the call to allow them to see all the boxes pop up on the screen with familiar, smiling faces, kind of like their own version of The Brady Bunch. Lisa loved how during this one hour time slot, all of their children were loved and accepted, and they could embrace their roles as the superstars they are!

As parents of young adults with Down syndrome during the pandemic, it was so important for the families to have this time to see their children feel connected with their peers. The hope is that Happy Hour will continue for years to come.

As we slowly see pandemic restrictions being lifted, Happy Hour attendance is dwindling. Bonnie Taylor offers that this is expected, as there will be plenty of opportunities to see each other soon.

Now, many are working hard to support the 2021 Chicago Ducky Derby, including Happy Hour participant, Mallory Taylor, who has been selected as this year’s Chicago Ducky Derby ambassador.

The Chicago Ducky Derby is an annual event in which more than 65,000 ducks race to the finish line on the Chicago River. Many athletes like Mallory help sell ducks throughout the summer for the Darling Ducklings team.

Stay tuned for our next Birds of a Feather article, where we dive into the lives of Special Olympics Illinois athletes who are supported in part by the Chicago Ducky Derby.

To support these athletes, you can adopt a duck under the Darling Ducklings team at