NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Berkshire County sheriff's office held its Special Olympics fundraiser "Humvee Push" on Saturday for the first time in North County.
About 100 people showed up to Wal-Mart on a picture perfect autumn day, including members of the Adams Fire Department, Adams Ambulance and Northern Berkshire EMS, and Cheshire Police Chief Timothy Garner and a bevy of sheriff's office personnel.
For Deputy Jacob Gaylord, it was something he wanted to do for a long time.
"The first year we had it was in Pittsfield but being raised in North County, I wanted to have more events up here because there are great people," he said. "Get people involved. It's always nice to raise as much money as we can but at the same time we want to get them involved, spread awareness. Awareness is so powerful. Just try to spread the word about these athletes that do amazing things."
Gaylord is the Western Massachusetts Special Olympics representative along with John Bassi, an investigator with the Pittsfield Police Department. He was quick to spread the credit around to others and point out it takes the whole county to organize these events.
"Police Chief Garner from Cheshire, he is a huge supporter, a big volunteer for the Special Olympics, Investigator John Bassi from PPD. I have some staff here from the sheriff's office. Officer Jason Roy and case worker Lindsay Maynard, those two are my rocks. My go-to people for events."
Gaylord was especially proud of Berkshire County residents who open their wallets for the Special Olympics cause through the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). Another huge fundraiser organized by the folks in blue that is an Olympic-style torch relay that takes place all over the commonwealth.
"Throughout the whole state, we raised just over $600,000. Just from Western Mass alone we carried over $100,000," he said. "By raising all this money for Special Olympics athletes they don't have to pay for any event, uniforms, travel expenses, hotel stays. The Special Olympics pays for it all."
Lindsay Maynard, an officer and case worker for the sheriff's department, is a familiar volunteer for these events.
"I helped out with this last year after I transferred back from Hamden County. I just try to do as much as possible in the community, outside of the jail," she said. "I think it's important for the sheriff's department to be present at stuff like this. Also, it's a beautiful day, we're raising money, awareness. Jacob asked for people to step up so I figured why not."
Stephanie Esposito is the Special Olympics director of development for the Law Enforcement Torch Run. She was on hand Saturday to represent the organization.
"The LETR is a grassroots fundraising and awareness arm of Special Olympics. Dedicated law enforcement members, municipal and state police, sheriff's office, active and veteran military, public safety, etc. members who are committed to volunteering and raising funds for Special Olympics."
She said Gaylord might have undersold the amount of money the event raises.
"We are on track to raise over $700,000 this year. In 2018, we raised $682,000," she said. "The LETR is an international event and it has raised over $60 million for Special Olympics since 1981."
The fundraising is a blessing because Special Olympics does not receive huge sums of money from government entities.
"The majority of the funds we bring in on an annual basis comes from individual people opening their wallets. Our average donation is relatively small," Esposito said. "We do have some corporate and community partnerships and we do get some grant and state and federal funding as well but by and large the majority of our funding comes from grassroots donors."
Esposito has a secret weapon to get people involved with Special Olympics.
"If we can get you out to one competition, if we can get you to put a medal around an athlete's head, especially law enforcement, we gotcha," she said. "Our goal is to create inclusion for individuals with intellectual disabilities on and off the playing field."
Despite the atmosphere of good will and giving there was still a trophy to be won and a three-ton vehicle to be pushed.
Teams of five had to push the Humvee 40 yards up and 40 yards back in the shortest amount of time possible. To nobody's surprise, Team Gym Strong, consisting of sheriff's department giants Nick Prezenik, Josh Gould, Anthony Marino, Ashton Alibozek and Jason Rivera took the trophy with a time of 30.79 seconds. Team North County was second at 39.32 and Team We Can Do It was third at 53.22.
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