Last summer, waves of Church members — between 10,000 and 15,000 — hosted and cheered the athletes of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. In recognition of their acts of service, California Gov. Jerry Brown presented the Church with the Governor’s 2016 Volunteering and Service Spotlight Award — the highest honor the governor bestows for volunteerism.
Gov. Brown called the Church and seven other category winners “California heroes” who have “gone above and beyond in the world of service and volunteerism.” The Spotlight Award honors “a group or individual who has uniquely met a community need with the power of service.”
The ceremony was held April 7 in the Governor’s Office at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
Larry Eastland, vice chair of the Southern California Public Affairs Council and architect of the Church’s Special Olympics involvement, said in accepting the award it belongs to the “15,000 pairs of helping hands who made the Special Olympics memorable and exceptional.” Thanking the governor for the honor, Brother Eastland said the Special Olympics initiative will serve as a “catalyst for continual community action and service” by members of the Church throughout California.
Also representing the Church at the ceremony were Elder Gary Wilde, an Area Seventy, and Maureen Fedail, director of Host Town for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.
Elder Wilde surmised that this endeavor by thousands of Church members in nearly 50 California cities will yield “long-term benefits for the Church in dozens of communities and will leave lasting impressions on the foreign athletes from 165 nations as they continually reflect on their experiences during the Olympic Games.”
Karen Baker, secretary of service and volunteering for the governor, presented the award. Through a meeting between Matt Ball, director of the North America West Area public affairs office for the Church, the secretary learned of the Church’s massive outpouring of service and immediately determined that their work would be recognized by the state.
During the pre-Olympic “Host Town” phase of the Games, Church members cooked meals, provided transportation, acted as language interpreters or delegation liaisons, entertained at concerts, assisted with housing and introduced 7,000 athletes and coaches to some of California’s most well-known attractions. Thousands of Church members also became “Fans in the Stands” spectators rooting for the athletes at dozens of venues around Southern California from July 25 through Aug. 2.
For Sister Fedail, “serving our brothers and sisters who are intellectually disabled is the Lord's work.” She said Host Town was a success in part because of “the great organization put in place by the LDS Church and their stake directors of public affairs.” She believes for the delegations of athletes who came to the Games, Host Town “was one of the most important and memorable aspects of their visit to Southern California.”