Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging
Special Olympics Illinois is dedicated to growing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging throughout our organization and the community in Illinois. We believe every volunteer, athlete, family member, vendor, employee, donor, partner, sponsor, coach …anyone can be a part of the Special Olympics movement. We learn from each other and grow together.
Our Belief Statement
Special Olympics Illinois believes it can best live its mission and reach its vision by actively growing, developing, and nurturing an inclusive culture, which values, respects, and celebrates the diversity of each human spirit - both intrinsic and extrinsic capabilities, talents and traits - including gender, color, spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. that form diversity of the human spirit. It also includes culture, life experiences, relationships, learning preferences, decision-making tactics, and many other influences that make us who we are.
What Does DEIB Mean?
Diversity describes the myriad ways in which people differ, including the psychological, physical, and social differences that occur among all individuals, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, religion, economic class, education, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, mental and physical ability, and learning styles. Diversity is all inclusive and supportive of the proposition that everyone and every group should be valued. It is about understanding these differences and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of our differences.
Working toward fair outcomes for people or groups by treating them in ways that address their unique advantages or barriers.
Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.
The feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group. It is when an individual can bring their authentic self to work.
As part of one of the strategic initiatives for Special Olympics Illinois, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging is the cornerstone of ensuring our mission encompasses everyone. Implementing diversity and inclusion objectives that foster growth of a more diverse environment by reaching various demographics in all aspects, from athletes, Unified partners, volunteers, donors, Board of Directors, and staff members. Creating an inclusive environment, where equity is upheld and diversity is respected, is fundamental to our mission, to build positive identities, develop a sense of belonging and allowing athletes to realize their full potential is transforming lives. Follow this link if you want to see the full strategic plan!
- Ultimately grow the diversity of employees, volunteers, donor, coaches and participants
- Promote and strengthen leadership, professional development, and diversity programs for Special Olympics Illinois employees and Board of Directors
- Nurture a welcoming and inclusive environment
- Recruit additional members of the Board of Directors to serve on the committee - Looking for ad hoc members
- Work with all other strategic groups to reflect DEI messaging into all communication
- Solidify annual employee training on DEI as it relates to Special Olympics Illinois and our mission for 2024
- This may be selecting a different vendor or using the same vendor
- Increase participation of underrepresented groups including athletes, Unified partners, coaches, volunteers, etc.
- Create a charter for the DEIB committee to establish terms, expectations and goals
Athlete Employment Partners:
Partners that allow our athletes to job shadow and learn the different job aspects within their company.
Athlete Shadow Days Hired X Athletes
- O'Hare Hired 4 Athletes
- Colorado, Virginia, Texas, and Southern California
Taking Inclusion to New Heights
United Airlines has consistently been on the frontlines supporting the Special Olympics movement by volunteering at competitions, championing the annual Plane Pull fundraiser, and even hosting job shadow events at O’Hare International Airport for our athletes. In 2019, United introduced a Service Ambassador program, aimed at providing Special Olympics athletes employment within their operation, while affording unique and meaningful careers. This inaugural class of hires – Lauren Miller, Zinyra “Z” Ross, Daniel Smrokowski and Kyle Tuckey – quickly found themselves in essential roles while on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Affectionately named the “Original UA4,” this group seized the opportunity to serve others, particularly in a time of need. Coupling their training at United with lessons learned through Special Olympics, they are uniquely suited to succeed in this role.
"I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile and assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.
A huge thank you to our friends at United Airlines for further empowering Special Olympics athletes and shaping an inclusive future!
- Hired 2 Athletes
Description coming soon!
Meet the DEIB Committee!
Cindy Villafuerte has been part of the Special Olympics Illinois movement over the past decade. She is a business professional who is passionate about inclusivity and an advocate for those who don’t always have a voice. The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee is essential to building an inclusive culture for our athletes, community and workforce. Where everyone is valued, diversity is celebrated and a sense of belonging nurtured. Together we can contribute to build a more inclusive, tolerant and enriched society for the benefit of all, both abled and disabled.
Mo Khan is an attorney and advocate for public policy that uplifts underserved populations. People of all backgrounds, beliefs, and communities deserve to be included. This idea is fundamental to the Special Olympics movement and sits at the core of this committee's charter. Launching the DEIB committee is important because it serves as a platform for the entire Special Olympics Illinois community to come together around shared values.
Patty has over 35 years of experience working with individuals of all ages in the Special Recreation and Special Olympics field. Throughout her career she has worked with individuals with and without disabilities and their families as they start their sports and work journey. Patty is excited to be on the DEIB committee as we work to ensure all individuals have access to and feel included at Special Olympics Illinois.
Bio coming soon!
Jennifer holds two certifications from the University of South Florida in Inclusive and Ethical Leadership and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace. She currently serves as president of Junior League of the Quad Cities, where she also leads their DEI initiatives. She is a part of the DEIB committee at SOILL because she wants to help create an environment where our athletes, volunteers and staff can be themselves, be heard and feel like they belong.
Jillian started her professional journey as a teacher and since has worked with individuals of all ages in various roles over the past 12 years. Throughout her career she has worked with people with various differences including socioeconomic standing, race, religion, LGBTQ+, and disabilities. Jillian is excited to be on the DEIB committee as we work to ensure all individuals have access to and feel included in the great opportunities that are offered within Special Olympics Illinois.
Vanessa believes in embracing the power of diversity and how that strengthens our community. Growing up as a first-generation Mexican American, in a small town in Central Illinois, diversity and inclusion were not often celebrated. This experience was the driving force of her being an advocate for unrepresented communities. She strongly believes in DIEB work of dismantling systemic barriers, challenging biases to pave away for equal opportunities for all. Because everyone deserves a seat at the table.
Amanda is a strong advocate for the disability community and has dedicated her career to transforming the lives of people with disabilities. Prior to joining SOILL, she was the community outreach lead for Northwestern Medicine’s internal disability employee resource group and worked for a variety nonprofits serving individuals with disabilities. Amanda is particularly passionate about inclusion, health equity, and intersectionality as it relates to the disability community. She hopes to bring a DEIB lens to her work in development at SOILL.
Gabby focused her studies on DEIB and obtained a master’s degree in public administration where she delved into pressing public issues. Prior to joining the SOILL staff, Gabby worked as a social studies teacher and served as co-chair of the school’s DEI committee. She now sits on the DEIB committee at SOILL and is eager to work to ensure everyone currently within and those new to the Special Olympics Illinois community feel welcome and all can belong.
Sarah Stevens is a former healthcare executive turned writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. After leaving her career in corporate healthcare in 2016, she founded The Beautifull Project - a storytelling collective that has reached tens of thousands of women across the globe with its powerful message about learning to take up space. She also serves as the Community Impact Officer at The Project of The Quad Cities, a nonprofit that serves people living with HIV and the LGBTQ+ community. "I am an eternal optimist with an abiding belief that the world as a whole - and our workplaces in particular - are capable of being so much more than they have ever been before. I believe that the story doesn't have to end the way it started. I believe that we can always write a better ending."
Zinyra “Z” Ross
Zinyra "Z" Ross has lived two distinct lives. The first, she was isolated by severe cognitive disability and bullied. In her present life, Z is a confident and courageous role model. Z was raised to embrace life challenges and create her own path. At 13 years old Z began volunteering and working at Brookfield Zoo Chicago Zoological Society. This became and continues to be a non-traditional means of education for Zinyra, while she continues to work there. Zinyra also works at United Airlines as a Special Olympics Illinois service ambassador, she is one of the first to be hired in this position (UA4). Z is a Special Olympics Illinois athlete, leader, global messenger, Board of Director member and DEIB board member for Special Olympics Illinois. As well as a Artisan and innovative entrepreneur. As a member of the DEIB Board. I know access to resources are vital to know what adequate accommodations are needed for people with disabilities like me. I will continue to help others grow into a world where our ideas are welcomed, valued needed and necessary.
Amber Dunn is a patrol Master Sergeant with the Illinois State Police and serves on the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run committee. Amber has been involved with Special Olympics and the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the past 12 years. Working as a minority female in a male-dominated and limited diversity environment, she has been a proponent for diversity, equity, and inclusion at all events and areas. Amber is committed to ensuring that SOILL is a welcoming and inclusive place for all members of our community.