Not just for Alan ... but for all Olympians
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 11, 2011 1:50 AM
From left, Don, Alan and Charlotte Jenkins share memories of their 16-year involvement with Special Olympics.
Don and Charlotte Jenkins decided long ago that supporting their children on the sidelines was not enough.
They needed to be involved.
So when their son, Alan, now 25, began competing in Special Olympics, his parents also found ways to participate.
They cheered him on in local, state and national competitions in swimming, basketball, golf, bocce and bowling.
They raised funds.
They even volunteered as coaches -- Don in swimming, basketball, golf, power lifting and bowling, and Charlotte in cheerleading, golf and bowling.
And now, they have been honored for not only being there for their son, but for making the dream of competition possible for other special needs children across the state as the Special Olympics North Carolina Family of the Year.
"They have just been such big supporters of the program for so many years," said Janet Presson, founder of A Small Miracle, which provides services for children and adults with special needs. "The whole family is just immersed in Special Olympics, not just for their son but all the athletes and the families."
The state honor follows previous recognitions as family of the year at the local and regional levels.
"With 39,000 athletes (in the state), that's pretty impressive," Mrs. Presson said.
Don said the recognition came as a surprise.
"The regional award came in 2010, but when you win the area's award you become eligible for the state award for two years," he said. "We forgot about it."
When the state award was announced recently, it took a moment to set in.
"I was just totally shocked and blown away," Don said. "We are honored, but also humbled, because there are so many others that work with these athletes."
"I feel like there are other families that are just as worthy," Charlotte said.
For the couple, and for the rest of the family, which includes two other children, Don Jr., who lives in Goldsboro, and Jason, who is in Ohio, it's always been about helping other young men and women cross the finish line.
For Alan, that journey began when he was a 8-year-old at Wayne Christian and discovered the Special Olympics program, his father said.
"He stayed involved in the local games, doing track and field, bowling for two, three years, and then he started competing at the state level. That's when we got involved. We got involved as a family. That was important."
While their son has shelves and walls filled with plaques and medals acquired along the way, for his parents the greatest reward has been simple -- watching him grow.
"It's helped him become more of a sociable person," Don said. "He was very quiet.
"It's made a difference in all our lives. We enjoy the kids. That's the best part, just to see the smiles on their faces and their accomplishments."
Alan's favorite part of the program has been the friends he's made.
"Just hanging out with other people from other states," he said.
"Interacting, friends, that's what it's all about," his father chimed in.
"It's just been fantastic," Charlotte said. "To see what he has accomplished. There are days, it's been a long road, but overall it's been an excellent experience."
Her husband's smile intact, he reflected on their lives forever altered by the needs of their youngest child. Sixteen years ago, Don said, he "never thought (Alan) would be where he is today."
"Any time you deal with special populations, first of all you love them from the moment you see them," he said. "But it takes a lot of patience."
"But just this much," he said, holding his thumb and forefinger together, "a tiny bit of encouragement, you can coach them. You start out, they don't even know how to hold the ball in their hands. You just push them and encourage them."
And now, they proudly watch as their son not only participates in his own Special Olympics events, but has been a volunteer with Grantham Fire Department and obtained his driver's license.
And Alan also gives back to the program that has been so instrumental in his own life.
"I wanted to help those kids that I'm here to help," he said. "If they don't have enough volunteers, I don't care where they put me, I'll help."