Interview with Jason Blank, Vice President of Sports and Programs
Special Olympics Wisconsin is an organization that uses the power of sport to serve people with intellectual disabilities. The support provided includes access to athletic competition, leadership opportunities and health programming. Vice President of Sports and Programs, Jason Blank proudly sums up the mission of the organization by saying, “We really try to provide a well-rounded experience for our athletes, so they not only compete at their best but also be their best.”
Blank explained how they have been able to use the grants provided from the Wispact Foundation as an opportunity to “not only benefit from the year of the grant, but also to grow and set ourselves up in a good spot and really give us an opportunity to springboard some programs.” This approach has allowed them to leverage these grants and use them sustainably for the long term. This is not only illustrated by the investments in new equipment but also by further expanding programs such as their aging athletes program and the State Summer Games.
The strong relationships Special Olympics Wisconsin creates keeps people coming back. “A lot of our athletes have competed for decades and are getting to a point where some of the higher impact sports are getting more and more difficult for them to compete in. So, we are looking at opportunities to provide low impact sports to let people continue to compete,” Blank said. “One of our shining examples from that was our development of our Cornhole program. Cornhole is very accessible, not only to our athletes, but we also offer it as a unified sport. It allows for people with and without intellectual disabilities to compete together. We’ve seen that in the form of friends and family members really adding that social concept to it.” With the help from the Wispact grants, this program has grown from about 12 teams to up to 175 teams throughout the past three years. They intend to keep that number growing as evident by the fact that their program is currently the second largest Cornhole program in the United States, which is becoming a booming sport with the Special Olympics.
Also, with the help of a grant this past year, Special Olympics Wisconsin was able to further support the expansion of the State Summer Games. Blank said, “We moved our state games from UW Stevens Point to UW Whitewater which allowed more people to participate. A larger event makes participation even more special for our athletes.”
When asked about the experience working with Wispact Blank said, “It has always been very easy and straightforward. If we had questions and concerns going through things, we got immediate answers and the support we needed. And so, all of that together, makes working with Wispact a really positive experience in helping us fulfill our mission.”
For more information about Special Olympics Wisconsin, please visit SpecialOlympicsWisconsin.org. As Blank added, “There’s a “get involved tab” that allows people to find opportunities and different ways they can get involved within our organization. People who have a similar passion can volunteer and just getting to know people with intellectual disabilities is so meaningful for everybody involved.