Volunteering Becomes Family Affair for Region E's Bouwmans

Volunteers are at the center of everything Special Olympics Illinois does. Whether they’re orchestrating logistics of events, lending a helping hand behind the scenes, serving as coaches and officials, or offering enthusiastic support from the sidelines, our mission comes to life through their selfless contributions.

In Region E, one family has discovered a profound sense of purpose through their volunteer efforts with Special Olympics Illinois.

Arek and Lauren Bouwman have been coaches spanning three decades. The couple began dating after coaching together on the Lansing Knights of Columbus swim team. After their daughter, Erica, was born, Arek and Lauren quickly brought her into the “family” by bringing her to practices and team competitions.

In 2013, Special Olympics Illinois staff requested that the two become key volunteers for aquatics at Summer Games. Arek and Lauren have helped at Summer Games every year since then, assisting athletes in and out of the water, helping with awards, and working the swim bullpen.

In addition to Summer Games, Arek and Lauren have been involved at the local level for nearly a decade, and their daughter, Erica, has volunteered for several years. This year, Erica served as lead volunteer for bullpen at a Region E event.

About the mission of Special Olympics Illinois, the Bouwman family notes, “Knowing that individuals with disabilities are fully included in so many sports is inspiring. Actually being present to share in the emotion, excitement, nerves and pure joy of the athletes is totally inspiring.”

Lauren said, “We are grateful as a family to be along for the ride and get to share in just a small piece of this amazing world of Special Olympics Illinois. Our heart is full after each event we assist with.”

When asked the impact volunteering has had on their family, Lauren and Arek replied, “It has been such a rewarding experience for us.” They said, “It has taught us to get to know the individuals, not just their disability. Over the years, we have gotten to know so many athletes, their families, and coaches through Special Olympics Illinois. It has given us joy, excitement, and inspiration.

The Bouwman family is currently working to recruit their team for the 2024 Region E Spring Games, happening on May 4-5 at Thornwood High School in South Holland.

Lauren noted, “As we have brought friends and family along to volunteer, they have all talked about how impressed they are with what athletes are able to accomplish despite a disability and how much pure joy everyone has. It is honestly infectious.”

We can’t thank the Bouwmans, and all Special Olympics Illinois volunteers, enough for the time and effort dedicated to making our events unforgettable for our athletes.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities.