Region D Stories Stories

Meet Stephen Katz


 

Stephen Katz is a young man of many talents. Born in November of 1984, Stephen entered the world with blond hair, blue eyes, nostagmia, Down Syndrome, and jaundice. The jaundice gave way to several days under the Billierubin Lights… perhaps that was a sign of things to come as stage lights were in his future!


Stephen also had hypotonia which is a weak muscle condition that caused his arms and legs to just hang from his body. That diagnosis gave way to a word being eliminated from our vocabulary: “CAN’T.” After so many doctors, specialists, insurance companies and other professionals left our family overloaded with “CAN’TS,” we chose “CAN” and boy “CAN” he ever now!


Stephen has been bagging groceries for the last 14+ years at Jewel/Osco and has been named Employee of the Month. He also was named The Change for Champions Ambassador for Special Olympics Illinois/Jewel-Osco in 2016. On top of winning numerous Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and Ribbons in his 27 years of competition, he is training to become a Global Messenger and earn the Navy Blue Blazer. Stephen has participated in many sports over the years, starting with Track & Field when he was eight years old. He has a long list of sports that he has participated in including Running and Standing Long Jumps, Softball Throw, 50- and100-Meter dash and Relay, and then Shot Put in High School. Basketball was added in Middle School, continued through High School, and he still participates with the local Special Rec Association. SRA also provided the training needed for gymnastics, which he also added in High School and progressed and continued after graduation in 2006. Swimming, Volleyball and Powerlifting were also added in High School, and he continued volleyball for several years, as well, after he graduated. Stephen retired approximately 10 years ago as an All Around Athlete, with his final District meet netting him all Gold medals in his seven events.


His prowess in powerlifting continues with an independent team called “The Rebels” with his workouts taking place at a local CrossFit facility. Stephen’s current lift stats as of the 2019 Special Olympic Illinois Summer Games included the Squat at 250 lbs., where he earned silver; Benchpress at 205lbs., where he earned Bronze; and Deadlift at 315 lbs., where he earned Gold!


Stephen doesn’t stop there! He also plays baseball for the BGRA Buddy Baseball League, and it was his idea to also help coach the junior teams.
Weeks, months and years of feeding, occupational, speech and physical therapies have led Stephen to enjoy tasting new foods, like reindeer sausage on a trip to Alaska, and Stephen’s “CAN DO” spirit has helped him to achieve many of his successes in sports and in life. He has walked across a suspension bridge in Tennessee, explored caves in South Dakota, sledded down a 300-foot ice run in Fairbanks, Alaska, and changed diapers (only #1…) for his niece and nephews. He also adds modeling and volunteering for the NWSRA/SLSF Gold Medal Fashion Show to his list of non-stop activities!


Stephen has two Looney Tunes illustrations hanging in his room. One says “Determination” and the other says “Persistence.” Perhaps it is those that have encouraged his “Can Do” spirit and his “Funnyman” sense of humor. That spirit helped earn him the Freeburg award in 2006. Stephen volunteers for NWSRA/SLSF, the local Frontier Days Festival, and Special Olympics Illinois, and in 2012 Stephen and his parents received the Volunteer Family of the Year Award from Special Olympics Illinois.
Stephen continues to impress with his smile, sense of humor, and willingness to help, but it is that “CAN DO” spirit that truly makes him special.


Special Olympics Illinois Opens Chicago Headquarters


 

CHICAGO, January 9, 2020 – Special Olympics Illinois, the only Illinois entity accredited by Special Olympics Inc., is opening a Chicago headquarters in the West Loop as the Chicago-born non-profit expands programming to ensure people with intellectual disabilities an ever-expanding opportunity for growth.


The Chicago office for Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) will bring the organization closer to a growing constituency in the city as it expands and introduces new programs. Roughly, 53,000 people in Chicago live with intellectual disabilities. Currently, Special Olympics Illinois serves about 6,000 athletes, ages 8 and older of all ethnicities.


“We are moving into the West Loop to expand our work in Chicago. We want Chicagoans to know Special Olympics is much more than a track meet. We are a leader in health services for people with intellectual disabilities and we enhance life skills to build confidence,” said David Breen, president of Special Olympics Illinois. “And with our key partners, many of whom are in the city, we can work together to bridge inclusion hurdles, so our athletes have equal opportunities to prosper as contributing adults.”


Already in Chicago, Special Olympics Unified School programming is offered at 19 Chicago Public Schools. Unified Champion Schools (UCS) is an all ages, education-based program supported through the Federal Department of Education. At Unified Champion Schools, students with and without intellectual disabilities work together to develop, skills and opportunities to build change and help their schools develop true cultures of inclusiveness.


Later this month, SOILL will host a professional development seminar for schools that have implemented Unified programming and for those interested in learning more. It is the first of several informational meetings planned for the year. Significant expansion plans throughout CPS are on tap for 2020 adding to the expanding list of 280+ UCS schools throughout Illinois.


Ahead of the move into Chicago, SOILL hired an outreach director to work with Chicago Public Schools to expand programming for students with intellectual disabilities. Also, SOILL hired a government relations specialist to expand development and partnership opportunities for the Chicago region.


The West Loop office will provide SOILL additional opportunities to help corporate sponsors to work on solutions for workplace diversity and inclusion issues. “Inclusion creates career opportunities for our athletes, and we are at a time when companies are looking to us for help on implementing their goals for a more inclusive workforce,” Breen said.


“Furthermore, given the area’s continued business and residential growth, our new office will help us better connect with the city’s young professionals looking to spend time with our inspiring athletes and growing our mission.”


SOILL will host an invitation-only Open House on January 15 in its new space, 820 W. Jackson Blvd. The Chicago office will complement Special Olympics Illinois’ existing state headquarters in Normal, Ill.