Region K Stories Stories

Kinzi Loyd – A Star Who Shines Through Giving


Kinzi Loyd is a 29 year-old athlete who lives with her parents in Eldorado, Illinois. Born with Cerebral Palsy and Leigh’s Disease, Kinzi faces multiple motor challenges and depends on her mother and other family members for daily care. She is able to verbally communicate with those who are familiar with her, however she uses a communication device to communicate with others. Kinzi enjoys learning and, despite her limited motor skills, she is able to use a fisted knuckle on one hand to type on her iPad and laptop.

Kinzi has participated in Special Olympics Illinois for several years, and she is always ready for a challenge. For example, she competes in bowling the best way that she can – by bowling with her foot! She also enjoys competing in Spring and Summer Games, as well as basketball skills and motor skills.

When not on the field of play, Kinzi helps with Special Olympics Illinois fundraising events and serves as a Global Messenger for Region K. She participates in the annual Polar Plunge and Ducky Derby, and was recently chosen to be Duck Ambassador for her region in 2021. 

After graduating high school, Kinzi attended an outside workshop for adults with disabilities. She later decided that she wanted to pursue different avenues and started volunteering at the local elementary school. She worked with pre-school students and helped teachers by providing for and participating in activities with the students. She also worked at a nearby hair salon where she folded towels with the assistance of a personal support worker. 

When COVID cases continued to rise, Kinzi had to give up her volunteer work and also her position at the salon, but she did not let that stop her.  She loves to stay busy and keep her mind and body active. Despite her challenges, she is determined to continue to live a productive and rewarding life by helping others.

Over the years, her uncle has taught her about electronics and how to use various equipment for recording.  With some assistance, adaptations, and modifications, Kinzi was able to make recordings and decided to offer a special service to others from her home. She now helps families by taking VHS home movies and converting them to DVD format. She uses her computer to design a label and cover then prints them to make a professional-looking product. She only needs assistance with placing the tapes and DVDs into the players and placing the labels and covers. She is able to perform the whole process by using her remotes, computer, and iPad.

Kinzi provides her VHS-to-DVD service at a minimal charge, then donates all of the profits to Special Olympics Illinois.  The money she donates is used to support events and to help her own team, The Saline County Superstars Young Adults.  

Kinzi’s talents are portrayed in so many ways.  Whether it be through sports or creative fundraising, she makes a big difference in her community and is a star for Special Olympics Illinois. She loves participating in any way she can. Kinzi’s desire to help others, though, is and always will be what makes THIS star shine the brightest.      

Southern Ducky Derby Dash


Adopt a duck for $5 then see who wins the grand prize on Sunday, October 4.

Preston’s Birthday Party


By: Megan J.M. Clodi

“Are you going to throw me a party?” is the exact question asked several times a week by Mt. Vernon Township High School (MVTHS) student-athlete, Preston Reich. He would ask his teacher this question to make sure she didn’t forget he was getting ready to embark on a new chapter of his life.

Preston has always attended MVTHS and participated in Special Olympics bowling, athletics (track and field), Unified Bass Fishing, and after doing basketball skills for a number of years, he played on the basketball team. When Preston completed his fourth year of high school, he shifted to another program provided by MVTHS called Readying Adults to Maximize Success, or the R.A.M.S. Program. It is designed to teach students how to live independently with a strong focus on vocational skills. While he has been part of the program, Preston has honed his vocational skills while working at locations on and off campus. Mrs. LeeAnn Schuette was his teacher and developed relationships with several local businesses for Preston and his classmates to generalize their skills into community settings. The DoubleTree by Hilton, Mt. Vernon Dream Homes, and others are some locations where Preston has worked on fine-tuning his skills. While giving a speech to the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Executive Board about the R.A.M.S. Program, Preston revealed that his favorite part of working at the DoubleTree by Hilton was seeing General Manager, Mike Carbonaro every day … Mr. Carbonaro was in the audience for that speech!

This school year was bittersweet for Preston. This was his last year to attend MVTHS and his last year in the R.A.M.S. Program because he was turning 22 years old. When students receiving transitional programming turn 22 years old, they “age out” or exit the program. This can be daunting for some students or some families. Preston was ready! He works several days each week at Kingdom Seed Ministries, which is a non-profit organization that sells lunches three days a week to raise money for their various community ministries. All through the year, Preston knew what was coming around the corner in April 2020. He knew his time at MVTHS was coming to an end. Truthfully, he was the ONLY student at MVTHS who knew he would not be entering the hallowed halls for the rest of the school year. The abrupt end of in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise. The one aspect that Preston was not prepared for was how his 22nd birthday party would be impacted. Would he still have a party?

When students exit the R.A.M.S. Program midyear due to aging out, Mrs. Schuette really pulls out all the stops to make the exiting student feel how special they are and know how much they will be missed.  A HUGE 22nd birthday bash is held in the student’s honor. Preston participated in his classmate party last year. It was something he was looking forward to this entire year. March saw an Executive Order from Illinois Governor JB Pritzker for all Illinois residents to stay at home for at least 30 days. This meant Preston’s party, to be held on his birthday, April 17, could not be held, at least in the way it was originally intended.

Thankfully, Preston’s teacher is awfully incredible! She would never let a pandemic get in the way of Preston’s highly anticipated party. She just had to make sure he knew that Ram Nation would always love Preston and that he would always be part of the Ram Family!  Mrs. Schuette began contacting Preston’s family, teachers, staff members, and the whole community about Preston’s upcoming birthday and the brand-new plan to throw him a 22nd birthday PARADE! At 12:30 pm on Friday, April 17, about 50 vehicles met in a nearby vacant parking lot and at 12:45 pm police sirens were sounded as the vehicles formed a line and began driving toward Preston’s home. This timing was important because it was the time of day Preston was born 22 years before. Living a few blocks from a major road, Preston thought the sirens were for a funeral procession. As the siren sound became louder and louder, he and his family exited their home and were greeted with a long procession of cars, decorated with streamers and balloons, honking while passengers were cheering and holding signs, and many carefully dropped gifts and cards for Preston.

Speaking of cards, Preston received so many cards in the days surrounding his birthday!  He hardly ever receives mail, let alone so many cards! He even received a card from the state of Florida with Disney stickers. One letter came from Jackson Creel, a senior at MVTHS, who happens to share a birthday with Preston. He wrote that “all the cool people are born on April 17.” Jackson went on to write how much he missed seeing Preston in the hallways at school and telling him hello. Although they have never had classes together or hung out together after school, Jackson knows that birthdays are special, especially “their” birthday. Preston hung that special letter on his bedroom mirror. Guess who was hanging out the window of his mom’s SUV during Preston’s birthday parade … that’s right, Jackson!

Preston and his family were amazed at how the school and community showered him with love and birthday wishes.  He recorded a thank you video that his mom posted on Facebook. Preston may not have received a celebration like he was expecting, but Preston’s parade was the perfect party proxy!

Tri-County Independents Take Home 2nd in the 2019 Special Olympics North America Softball Championship



Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners from the United States and Canada traveled to Tennessee to compete in the 2019 Special Olympics North America Softball Championship.

The four-day tournament allowed over 250 Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners to compete at a national level. The tournament was an outstanding display of sportsmanship, comradery, and incredible athleticism.

From Illinois, the Tri-County Independents took 2nd place in the Unified High-Performance division.

The team has participated in the softball championship since 2011. Head Coach, Larry Needham, and wife, Barb Needham, have been with the Tri-County Independents for quite some time. The coaches live by the motto, “you play as you practice,” said Larry.

On and off the playing field, the Tri-County Independents exemplify strong. At the end of the day, the Tri-County coaches want their athletes and Unified Partners to play their best, and most of all have fun.

The team worked hard to make their positive impact known. From high fives between Unified Partners to cheering rival teams on- the Tri-County Independents always end the game on a high note.

Johnston City School District Takes on the Southern Ducky Derby Dash


This summer, the Johnston City School District jumped at the chance to give back to their community.

The Johnston City High School Business Club has been involved in Special Olympics Illinois for several years and will be a part of selling ducks for the Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash set to take place at the Du Quoin State Fair on September 1.

“Selling ducks is a great way to help support Special Olympics Illinois and get our students and community involved to help,” says Coach Patti Parks.

“Our cheerleaders and student councils have sold ducks to raise awareness for Special Olympics Illinois, and raise money for our division at the same time.”

The club has sold ducks all over southern Illinois including at the Johnston City fireworks show and outside of Walmart. They will continue sales at the Du Quoin State Fair on Sunday, August 25.

Last year was the second year for Johnston City Elementary to have an athlete participate in Special Olympics Illinois. Matthew Garza, 9, from Johnston City, Illinois participates in both athletics and basketball. His Johnston City Elementary classmates were excited to watch him compete in the Region K Spring Games where Matthew took home first place in both the 25-meter wheelchair race and the tennis ball throw in 2018 and 2019. Matthew is always determined to play his best, even skipping recess to practice his tennis ball throwing.

“We are looking forward to adding more Special Olympics Illinois athletes to the JC Quack Attack Tribe this year as well as attending the Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash.”