A good person, a good coach, and a hard worker. That’s how Special Olympics athlete Melvin Hanhams describes volunteer and coach Rhonda Cater.
“I just like seeing them smile...seeing them happy.”
For Cater, that’s the most rewarding part of volunteering her time with the Exploits Special Olympics.
The volunteer-run organization has to rely on many hands to keep it’s programming – which includes training, social events, as well as hosting and attending tournaments – running smoothly. But according to her friends and counterparts within the Special Olympics, Cater’s dedication stands above and beyond.
Cater got involved with the group around six years ago because her daughter is among the many athletes she helps coach, but wastes no time saying she would be involved even if her daughter wasn’t.
According to another Special Olympics volunteer, Gaye Reid, Cater has put in countless hours of coaching, co-ordinaitng, fundraising, and everything in between during her time with the group.
Cater spent several years as the co-ordinatior of the Exploits Special Olympics, but had to step down from the role when her daughter got sick. Now the whole committee shares the responsibilities involved – a role that requires several hours every week. But Reid said because of her personality, as well as the time she’s spent with the group, she often acts as a community liaison.
“It seems like everyone knows Rhonda, and whenever anyone has questions or anything they phone Rhonda and she’ll find out the answers,” said Reid, adding with a laugh, “sometimes she says that’s a curse…but she’s always there to help out.”
One of the things that make the roles of all the volunteers with Special Olympics important to the community is the impact the organization has on the athletes that take part in it.
“Special Olympics helps give people with disabilities not only just physical exercise, but there’s also a social part to it, it really fuels their self esteem,” said Reid.
All the volunteers have to fit in many roles when working with the athletes, sometimes a coach, sometimes a mentor, a fundraiser or organizer, but always a friend.
According to Reid, the friend part comes naturally to Cater, and athletes all have a special bond with her.
“Rhonda will go out of her way to make sure everyone is happy…she’s just so dedicated,” said Reid. “The athletes just love her to death.”
Cater admits she feels she has a special connection with the athletes she works with.
“I love every one of them, they’re all unique in their own ways,” she said. “I’ve always had a connection with (them), because I speak to them as humans, I never talk down to them.”
The athletes are also quick to share their appreciation for Cater, according to Reid, often with hugs and high-fives. One athlete, Lisa Loveridge, described Cater as “pretty and nice,” and added “she’s a good coach.”