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Toyota announces statewide partnership with Special Olympics

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 1/4/2019

Jan. 04--TUPELO -- Toyota Mississippi announced a partnership with the nonprofit Special Olympics Mississippi Thursday night, granting $50,000 toward growing the program throughout the state.

Special Olympics provides year-round athletic training and competition opportunities to roughly 5,000 people in Mississippi who have intellectual disabilities and those who do not, on the same team. Toyota Motor Corporation became the global partner for Special Olympics International in 2017.

Athletes from Pontotoc, Shannon and Tupelo marched at Thursday's event to celebrate the new partnership with the automaker.

"This partnership with Toyota Mississippi is going to allow us to provide more opportunities for more families in Mississippi," said Special Olympics marketing and development director Sam Wells. "There are 75,000 individuals in the state of Mississippi who have an intellectual disability, and we serve currently around 5,000.

"This money and the partnership they are going to have with us, as far as mobility and being able to give some rides to and from events for our athletes is going to go a long way to increasing our numbers."

Wells said the funds will go toward more medical screenings for hearing, vision, dental and podiatry, as well as state and local events, such as their biggest event, the Summer Games held at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.

Toyota Mississippi President Sean Suggs said Toyota is looking at mobility in the future, at how people move.

"We believe in the future of mobility, we believe that the way we look at a vehicle is going to be different in the future, the way people move is going to be different in the future, autonomous, electric vehicles, etc.," Suggs said.

"We are also interested in how people move around their living room, and how they move around their block, so our philosophy is changing a little bit on what we think is important from a mobility perspective," Suggs added.

Unified Champion Schools Director Sara Shea said the funds will go toward recruiting more athletes at schools throughout the state.

"This will grow that community bond and allow those athletes to connect with future jobs, future internships," Shea said. "It gives them mentors, it gives people to look up to that are in a career field."

Wells said the Unified Champion program works to provide students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to get more involved on their school's sports teams, join student government, even help with prom.

"So they can just be like everybody else because they are, they can speak for themselves and have input on what goes on in the schools, and that's what this is doing," Wells said.

Shea said the statewide partnership will create more opportunities for athletes with special needs in the future. Shea said sports is a gateway to helping athletes with special needs connect with others and receive mentorship.

cristina.carreon@journalinc.com Twitter @Cris_carreon90

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(c)2019 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)

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