Special Olympians dance the day away in Pittsfield

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Photo Gallery | Special Olympics athletes free event

PITTSFIELD — Danny Cooper, 31, has been a Special Olympian almost all his life. He has a whole roomful of gold, silver and bronze medals from his athletic career, according to his mother, Louise Cooper.

Danny is friendly enough, draping his arm around reporter, but he is shy around people and lets Louise do the talking. (Which, in some respects, is a mom's dream.)

"He loves bowling," said Louise of her son. "He qualified for the state meet this year, and won a ribbon for a fifth place finish."

Next year, said Louise, Danny plans to branch out and participate in more events.

Danny and Louise were among the 250 Special Olympians, parents, coaches and friends who were in attendance at Sunday's annual dance and luncheon. This year, it was at the ITAM Lodge in Pittsfield.

The event offered a lunch and around 1 p.m., there was dancing. It is all free to everyone at the event, according to Sheila Lepotakis, the principal organizer.

"This is the one event a year," said Lepotakis, "that parents and caregivers can have lunch and relax, and it's all free. That doesn't happen too often in their lives."

It's also an opportunity for parents, caregivers, friends and special needs individuals to meet up over a friendly bowl of pasta and salad.

"We build relationships that last," said Margaret "Peggy" Harner, who has been organizing and volunteering at various levels of the Special Olympics organization for decades. "These athletes aren't in it for the glory. What they want, and what their parents want, is to be treated like anyone else."

Lepotakis and a group of more than 20 organizers put this event on every year. Since she doesn't really have a budget, Lepotakis relies on local organizations and volunteers to make it happens.

Lepotakis said she is grateful for local groups like UNICO and Civitan for stepping in. Civitan provides manpower, while UNICO steps in and makes most of the food and provides most of the beverages.

"One of the things you don't realize is how much of an expense [food] is," she said.

She is also appreciative this year for the ITAM Lodge, who offered their meeting room for Sunday's brunch.

Dawn Giftos, a volunteer for Civitan, has been offering her time to the group for decades. The daughter of Peter Giftos, another longtime civic volunteer, Dawn Giftos said she greatly enjoys helping out at Special Olympic events.

"I love it," she said. "These people are so unconditional. It's so much fun to help."

One of the more prominent observations to be made about this event is how many organizations support it. In addition to the aforementioned groups, local police departments, led by the Pittsfield Police Department, have a big hand in fundraising.

Officer Darren Derby, the Berkshire coordinator of the law enforcement group that raises money for Special Olympics, estimated that the various events hosted by local police raised about $122,000 last year.

More importantly, said Derby, about 90 percent of the police departments in Berkshire County help the fundraising effort. That is, by a wide margin, the largest percentage in the state, he said.


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