For more than two decades, Pati Tiller has been working at the Arc of Calhoun and Cleburne Counties, a nonprofit agency that works with people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. She serves as the outreach coordinator and the Special Olympics coordinator. On March 13, the Arc will hold its Special Olympics track and field event at Jacksonville High School.
What is your professional background?
I went to Birmingham-Southern College and have a degree in theater as well as sociology. I spent a long time in journalism in Calhoun County. I started off in a career that did not have anything to do with either one of my degrees, but what I am doing now uses both of my degrees.
What is your position at the Arc?
I am the outreach coordinator and the Special Olympics coordinator for the Arc of Calhoun and Cleburne Counties. I am also the puppet coordinator, which sounds kind of weird (laughter).
Tell us about the puppets.
“Kids on the Block” is part of an international program based out of Columbia, Md., that started in 1977 as a result of the mainstreaming effort. There was a fourth grader named Anthony with cerebral palsy in Barbara Aiello’s special education classroom. … She and a puppeteering friend based a puppet on him and went into his future classmates’ classroom and taught them about cerebral palsy, so when he rolled in the next year there was no problem. Through the puppets, the show educates kids in the area about disability awareness, and there are also social concern scripts about bullying and things like that. We perform for kindergarten-sixth grades in Calhoun and Cleburne counties for free.
What are some other Arc programs?
We do the Special Olympics, a lot of social programs and therapeutic recreation, family advocacy, family support groups and self-advocates; we have a wide umbrella. Recently, we have been recognized by the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama as a nonprofit that meets the Standards of Excellence.
Why is the Standards of Excellence recognition important?
It is a great recognition. It helps us get funding because it one of those check marks, like a gold seal, for when we fill out grants and things like that. It is something we have been working towards — a certain level of transparency and effort through our work.
Tell us about the local Special Olympics event.
Our track and field event will be March 13 at Jacksonville High School. It will involve roughly 175 local athletes from Calhoun and Cleburne counties. Our adults are state champs in a lot of events, and we have had a lot of folks participate in national and world games. This year, we are excited because we have a brand new stand-up paddle-boarding program coached by Tim Cooper from Coldwater Elementary; they will go to Seattle, Wa., to represent the state of Alabama. We also have three adults who will be going to national games, June 30-July 7.
How can the community help with the Arc and your Special Olympics event?
We can always use volunteers, and we have programs throughout the year. You can come do a workday here. FedEx just redid our parking lot.
I am still plugging in people to work the Special Olympics, so if there is a group that would like to be the people on the ground that day at the event, that would be a huge help. If any businesses have lapel pins or state of Alabama lapel pins, we would love to collect those because the athletes swap those at national and world games.
Also, mark your calendars now for Aug. 18; that will be our third annual (family-friendly) Lip Sync Battle competition at Oxford Civic Center. We have a lot of fundraisers throughout the year, but that is our biggest. Groups of up to six people can lip sync two songs. There is a $25 fee to enter, and you get a nice trophy if you are one of the top three groups.
Finally, March is Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Month; on March 21, I would love it if everyone would wear a pair of mismatched socks in support of those with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.
Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.