Governor Kathy Hochul’s Executive Budget for Special Olympics New York includes a generous allocation of $1 million. This funding will enable individuals of all ages with disabilities to access free athletic opportunities.
In December, WBFO’s Disability Reporter Emyle Watkins uncovered that the organization had requested a minimum of $1.5 million from the state in the upcoming budget to avoid program cuts. Following the release of the budget, Watkins interviewed the CEO to gather her response.
I’m Emyle Watkins, and I have the pleasure of being joined by Stacey Hengsterman, the CEO of Special Olympics New York. Stacey, it’s a pleasure to have you here on WBFO.
Stacey Hengsterman expressed her gratitude for the invitation, saying, “Thank you for having me.”
Watkins: Let’s go back a few weeks ago when you joined WBFO to talk about Special Olympics’ request for increased funding from the state. Can you explain your objective and why this funding is so crucial?
Hengsterman explained that their organization had a strong strategic plan in place, aimed at expanding their reach to individuals with intellectual differences. They were dedicated to providing their current athletes with ample opportunities and wanted to increase those opportunities even further. However, they faced a challenge this year as the rising costs became difficult to manage. Despite their efforts to raise more funds, they had to turn away athletes at games, which deeply saddened them.
Watkins: Just to clarify, the funding for your program is unique compared to other recreational programs that the state supports for individuals with disabilities.
Hengsterman expressed gratitude towards the people of New York for their immense support in fundraising efforts. The organization relies heavily on these contributions, accounting for approximately 75 to 80% of their funding. New Yorkers actively participate in various events such as polar plunges, galas, and other gatherings to raise funds. It is through these initiatives that the organization is able to provide athletes with opportunities without charging them any fees. Additionally, they have also received a generous sum of $1.5 million from the state.
Watkins asked about Governor Kathy Hochul’s Executive Budget announcement on Tuesday and the exciting news it brought for Special Olympics. He inquired about the reaction to the $1 million increase in funding for Special Olympics.
Hengsterman expressed his absolute elation upon learning the news. He was thrilled to discover that she recognizes and appreciates the valuable work they do for the athletes. Moreover, he was delighted to hear that the state’s contribution to their work is increasing. Hengsterman feels immense pride in being a part of this organization and is incredibly grateful to the governor for her support.
Watkins: I understand that Hochul’s budget is her recommendation, but it still needs to be voted on. How confident are you that it will be approved during the budget process?
Hengsterman expressed confidence in their ability to secure the necessary funding for their project. They have received support from many legislators in the past and believe that they will continue to do so. Hengsterman stated that they will approach the legislature to request additional funding to reach their original goal of 1.5 million dollars. They are optimistic that the legislature recognizes the value of their work and will provide the extra funds needed. Hengsterman acknowledged that there is still some work to be done, but they remain positive about the outcome.
Watkins: Finally, what message do you have for the legislators who will be taking the vote on this funding?
Hengsterman suggests that the best way to understand the impact of Special Olympics is to witness it firsthand. Special Olympics is actively present in every community in New York, with individuals with intellectual disabilities participating in various programs. This organization has a transformative effect on the lives of these individuals and their families. It is integrated into schools and has a significant presence in each district. Hengsterman encourages people to explore and engage with Special Olympics, assuring that once they witness the incredible work being done, they too will become supporters.
Watkins: Thank you, Stacey.
Hengsterman expressed his gratitude by saying, “Thank you so much.”