Allison Kennedy Named NC’s 2023 Special Olympics Coordinator of the Year

Improving the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

(L-R) Keith L. Fishburne, Special Olympics North Carolina President/CEO, Allison Kennedy, Special Olympics Rutherford County Local Program Coordinator, and Jennifer Wardlow, retired Special Olympics Forsyth County athlete.
(L-R) Keith L. Fishburne, Special Olympics North Carolina President/CEO, Allison Kennedy, Special Olympics Rutherford County Local Program Coordinator, and Jennifer Wardlow, retired Special Olympics Forsyth County athlete.

The 2023 Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) Coordinator of the Year Award was presented to Allison Kennedy of Rutherford County.

Kennedy was presented with the award at the 2023 SONC Leadership Summit, which joined Special Olympics leaders from across the state, hosted August 18-20, 2023 in Durham. Every county has a local program coordinator who serves as the top leader for Special Olympics in their community. They are named and accredited to carry out their roles by SONC.

“My dad was the Exceptional Children director in our county when I was in elementary school,” said Kennedy. “He always let me take the day off and help at Spring Games. I was always around practices, I knew many of the local program coordinators; I grew up with them.”

In her high school years, she was active in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools programming, formerly known as Project UNIFY. Unified Champion Schools is a strategy to activate youth, engage educators and promote school communities of acceptance and inclusion where all young people are agents of change. After college, Kennedy returned to Rutherford County Schools, where she has been employed as a teacher for 16 years. Kennedy now manages a robust Unified Club, which she founded in 2014, at Forest City-Dunbar Elementary School.

During and after the pandemic, Kennedy implemented Partner Up Power Up, SONC’s virtual fitness training program, in the classroom, connecting Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners, individuals without intellectual disabilities. “The Partner Up Power Up program allowed our students to be connected to something, to keep training and to have goals,” explained Kennedy. “They got to see how the Special Olympics movement was much bigger than just our school, so we keep doing it.”

Since becoming coordinator for Special Olympics Rutherford County, Kennedy has mobilized a previously inactive local program. She worked to reestablish the local program by hosting day activities and open houses to recruit athletes and volunteers. From its days of inactivity, she helped grow the local program’s offerings to seven sports. Leveraging financial support from local organizations, including the Western North Carolina Bridge Foundation, she has secured substantial funding to ensure that all have the ability to participate, including her three sons who are active as Unified partners.

“My sons love it,” said Kennedy. “They tag along with me to all the Special Olympics events. It’s just part of their lives; I feel like they don’t know any different.”

Kennedy prioritizes youth involvement within Special Olympics Rutherford County, fostering the growth of future agents of change.

To get involved in the local program committee or to donate to Special Olympics Rutherford County, please contact [email protected].

About Special Olympics North Carolina

Since 1968, the organization has used the transformative power of sports to improve the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Nearly 40,000 athletes in North Carolina inspire thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members, and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide. Engage with SONC on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, and visit sonc.net.