CFL News
February 01, 2018

Chicago Welcomes Special Olympics Home for Its 50th Anniversary Celebration

Chicago Welcomes Special Olympics Home for Its 50th Anniversary Celebration

Since 1968, Special Olympics has provided people with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to share their talents and at the same time, it has changed the way the world views this special group of people. That was the first time 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada came to Chicago to participate in the inaugural Special Olympics games.

The idea for Special Olympics came from Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who at the time was a P.E. teacher with the Chicago Park District. William McFetridge, who at the time was President of the Chicago Park District, and President of SEIU Local 1 and SEIU International, asked her to create a program that would bring more of Chicago’s children with intellectual disabilities out of the shadow and to the parks. The reality of the Special Olympics was championed and supported by Eunice Shriver, the sister of former President John F. Kennedy, and Chicago’s labor movement.

Burke’s vision for the Special Olympics Summer Games required considerable financial and operational support. Knowing that, Burke and McFetridge solicited Shriver’s assistance, and they received a donation of $25,000 from the Shriver Foundation. When Burke and McFetridge solicited the corporate world, potential sponsors felt a program like this would inappropriately put these kids on display and turned Burke down. But, Burke remained undaunted because she knew that with each effort she put forth, she got closer to bringing these boys and girls out of the shadows. Instead, she turned to organized labor for much needed help.

“Justice Burke had a vision all those years ago, and labor shared in that vision,” said CFL President Jorge Ramirez. “Labor knows that while some may try to limit our opportunities as individuals, nothing moves our communities forward like the power of coming together. We understand our shared responsibility to our community, and it all started right here in our back yard at Soldier Field. Without any fanfare or recognition, labor stepped up in 1968 to ensure these games were a success because that’s what organized labor does.”

Over the last 50 years, the Special Olympics has become an international program built on inclusion and empowerment that started at Chicago’s Soldier Field. In July 2018, the world will come together once again in Chicago to celebrate the first 50 years and to launch the movement into the future. The Chicago Federation of Labor is proud be a “Co-Chair” level sponsor for the 2018 games and encourages all of its affiliates, friends, and community partners to participate in the exciting events that will take place July 17-21.

“I will consider these games a success for Chicago if Chicagoans come out and support it,” said Ramirez. “Illinois is currently ranked 49th out of the 50 states in the level of assistance it provides people with intellectual disabilities. While labor is working with Springfield to make legislative changes to ensure Illinois is a leader in this arena, here is our chance to show the world that Chicago is a leader in acceptance and inclusion. I hope everyone will make it a priority to come to at least one event throughout the week.”