Outstanding Awards Stories

Justin Dunning to Receive 2020 Illinois Outstanding Young Persons Award


Justin Dunning of Special Olympics Illinois- Region J has been selected as one of ten honorees for the Illinois Jaycees Outstanding Young Persons awards program.

The Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) program annually recognizes young people throughout Illinois who excel in their chosen fields, endeavors, and show a great commitment to their respective communities.

“This award is particularly special to me; nevertheless it speaks volumes about the people around me. I pride myself in finding great people to surround me, ones that will always be willing to step in and lend a hand,” said Justin.

Like Justin, the Jaycees are dedicated to making an impact in communities. As an award honoree, Justin will join an elite group of men and women. The Illinois TOYP program started over 50 years ago and has continued to recognize perspicuous men and women across Illinois.

“In very early conversations with Justin, it was clear he had a passion and desire for serving individuals with special needs. His love for sport and dedication to that sport were early indicators he would be very successful in our organization,” said Dave Breen, President, and CEO, Special Olympics Illinois. “Justin has shown a true talent for bringing teams together to better serve the Special Olympics athletes in Region J and the State of Illinois.”

Justin is being recognized in the category of Humanitarian and/or voluntary leadership. His work at Special Olympics Illinois has made him an excellent nominee for the Illinois Outstanding Young Persons Award.

Justin has been a part of the Special Olympics Illinois family for seven years. His devotion and passion during those seven years have helped spread the mission of the organization not only to his local community but also statewide. 

 “This award is just a combination of all our efforts leading to an impact in the community. I am truly blessed and honored,” said Justin.

More information can be found at http://www.iljaycees.org/toyp-2020/

SO Athlete, Nick Lorenz wins Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres


It is with such pride to hear stories about how Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) grows the confidence of athlete’s well-being off the field of play, helping them achieve such great things at school, in social circles, and in the workplace. So, when Nick Lorenz won The 2019 Ben Marcus Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres for his commitment and customer service to the organization, it was well deserved, and fits Nick’s energetic personality. Another key criteria to selecting award winners is finding exceptional associates who have gone above and beyond in their volunteering for others. Not only is Nick a Special Olympics Illinois athlete of 16 years (Basketball, Volleyball, Golf, Swimming, Bocce Ball, Bowling and Track & Field), but he goes above and beyond for SOILL as a competitor, a fundraiser, and a volunteer. Separate of Special Olympics Illinois, Nick is a volunteer for Lincoln Way Special Recreation Association, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Marcus Theatres is a division of The Marcus Corporation that is the fourth largest theater circuit in the Unites States and currently owns or operates 1,106 screens at 91 locations in 17 states. One location is in Orland Park, Illinois, where Nick has worked for three

years doing everything from taking tickets, to helping in the lobby and concession area, to customer service. “I like helping customers find their theater and helping them at concessions with the pop machine. I like working with all of my co-workers.”, Nick says.

As his parents, Pam and Scott say, “He loves his job at Marcus and feels like he is a big part of the community.” They site Special Olympics Illinois as a big contributor to their son’s confidence and continued outgoing personality, “It has helped Nick become a stronger person, both mentally and physically, (it has) taught him how to handle both winning and losing the right way. Since becoming a Global Messenger, with Special Olympics Illinois, his self-confidence has grown immensely.”

Congratulations to you, Nick for proving what you can do in sport, at work, and in the community. Being a Global Messenger is one part of the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program, and by winning this award, you are showing what it is to be a leader for all of us. Keep up the great work!

(Pictured left, Nick Lorenz and Greg Marcus, President and CEO of The Marcus Corporation.)

Rikki Kirsch Honored for Dedication and Passion to the Law Enforcement Torch Run to Support Special Olympics Illinois


The 2019 Annual Law Enforcement Torch Run Conference took place in Aurora, Colorado last month. The conference was particularly extraordinary for one Special Olympics Illinois athlete, Rikki Kirsch.

Rikki was announced as one of the three recipients of the 2019 LETR International Athlete of the Year Award.

The LETR International Athlete of the Year Award, recognizes athletes for their efforts in athletics, work, and involvement with LETR. The award builds on the commitment of law enforcement officers by recognizing a Special Olympics athlete who has gone above and beyond in their efforts to support law enforcement.

Across Illinois, Rikki is known for her unwavering courage and passion for competing in Special Olympics

Illinois events. Rikki also has an inside track to law enforcement, as her father works for the Sheriff’s office.

Rikki goes above and beyond when it comes to LETR and Special Olympics. She invites officers out to events and encourages them to get involved with Special Olympics. She has made a point to connect with other law enforcement families who have children who may be eligible to compete with Special Olympics Illinois.

Throughout her term as the first athlete ambassador to serve on the Law Enforcement Torch Run state committee, Rikki has opened doors with law enforcement to increase awareness about Special Olympics athletes.

“Rikki has become engaged in the Torch Run movement. She is a fixture at various Torch Run events,” said Katie Risley, Director of Development for LETR.

“It has been an honor to watch her grow and develop into a young leader, and it has been remarkable to observe Torch Run leadership in Illinois truly embrace Rikki as one of their own.”

Rikki and her family have attended and actively participated in hundreds of Torch Run fundraisers and activities. She has taken on the responsibility of traveling to many police departments throughout the state. There, she would talk about why police officers need to be involved with the Torch Run. She is so inspiring, many of those departments have become active for the first time or re-energized to do more.

Rikki is an exceptional and dedicated athlete who believes in the Torch Run and Special Olympics, there could not be a more deserving recipient.

“If you look up ‘ambassador’ in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Rikki Kirsch.”

Congratulations to Jose Moreno: 2019 Niles North Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipient













Each year, Niles North High School recognizes one alumnus for their outstanding contributions beyond their high school career. Jose Moreno, Niles North Alumni, and Special Olympics Illinois athlete was selected as the 2019 recipient.

The award was presented by Dr. James B. Edwards, Principal of Niles North High School. Jose was chosen by the Alumni Associate upon review of the recommendations from both staff and the community. The Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes an outstanding Niles North graduate who exemplifies courage, determination, and the will to push past adversity. Jose portrays all of these qualities.

Jose got his start with Special Olympics Illinois in 2009 when he began competing in basketball. Over the last several years he has been victorious in floor hockey, golf, bocce, softball, volleyball, and his current favorite, bowling. Jose also serves as an athlete leader where he has the opportunity to share his story with the community.

“I am honored and humbled to receive the 2019 Distinguished Alumnus Award. It means so much to me to be recognized for my talents beyond my disability,” says Jose Moreno, 2019 Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient.

“I am so proud that I am teaching other students that your disability does not stop you from following your dreams, including applying for the distinguished alumnus award!”

Jose attributes his success to the extraordinary staff at Niles North High School and his life-changing experiences as a Special Olympics Illinois athlete.








LETR Officer Wins Distinguished Service Medal


Normal Police Detective & Torch Run Officer, Wins Distinguished Service Medal by the Presidential Service Center for her work with Special Olympics Illinois

This June, for the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games, the Law Enforcement Torch Run ceremoniously runs the torches from all points around the state to the 10,000+ athletes, coaches, volunteers, families at the Special Olympics Summer Games Opening Ceremonies in Bloomington/Normal. For one of those officers, the light in the torch will be shining brightly along with the light in her heart.

Normal Police Department Detective, Nikki Bruno is just that person and in a ceremony on May 17th by the McLean County Republican Party, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the Presidential Service Center for helping to give back and make the Normal, IL community a better place. The award was presented by past award winner and White House Executive Chef to the past five Presidents, Martin Mongiello.

As part of her giving back, most of this work has been with the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Illinois, which is the single largest fundraiser throughout our state. Nikki is described by all who know her as caring, dedicated, hardworking, humble, passionate, driven and impactful to help someone who may need a coat, a meal for Thanksgiving, aid a family of a fallen officer and support the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. All that being said about her, she will tell you that most of what she does is a group effort and the award is deserved by many people who give back.

As one of the nominations stated, “The impact of Nicole Bruno is felt daily by those members of our community who use the services that she supports”. This statement is a reflection of how she feels about the town she calls home as well. “In Normal, we are fortunate to have a community that has many opportunities to volunteer and be a part of giving back”, Bruno said. That along with the support she received from her Lieutenant, M. Paul Smith throughout the nomination process makes Detective Bruno extremely appreciative and respectful of what she has and will always continue to give back.

This June, for the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games, many flames were lit brightly in support of our athletes. None brighter than the one inside Nikki’s heart. Thanks for all you do for the Law Enforcement Torch Run and for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. An award well deserved!