Special Olympics has touched the lives of millions of people across the world since those first fateful Games organized by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in Chicago in 1968 – an historic moment that was commemorated this year as the movement celebrated its 50th anniversary.
It’s likely unclear how many people currently involved in the global movement have been around to see all 50 years of it, but here in Florida, we have a remarkable volunteer who has been around for just about all of it.
Linda Mills joined the Special Olympics Florida – Broward County Leadership Team when she was a student at Florida Atlantic University 43 years ago. It has been time well spent for the Fort Lauderdale resident who considers her work with Special Olympics a labor of love.
“I was getting a degree to teach Special Education and wanted to volunteer with special populations. I worked with a group home I took bowling on Saturdays. One Saturday, there was a Special Olympics competition. I joined the County Management Team right after,” said Mills.
While Mills started off as a volunteer for the County Management Team, she has taken over as the County Director for Broward County for the past 27 years and has had many roles in-between. She has never taken for granted the day Special Olympics came into her life and her decision to volunteer with the organization.
“Go one time to volunteer and you will be hooked for life. I have always received more from my interactions with athletes than I have ever felt I gave to them,” said Mills.
With almost 50 years of Special Olympics Florida memories, it’s understandably hard to pin down all the favorites. Some of Mills’ top memories include taking athletes to North Carolina where most of them got to see snow for the first time, as well as holiday parties hosted at her house.
But one memory she gets to share with every athlete is to watch them “grow up” through Special Olympics.
“Once they find that inner strength through acceptance and sports, that changes every part of their lives – they get jobs, lose weight, feel good about themselves and life.”
The years of selfless dedication wasn’t lost on an appreciative audience and the Special Olympics athletes who thrived under Mills’ leadership and unwavering support as she will be missed after her retirement this month.
Special Olympics Florida is truly thankful for everything Linda has done for her community and for the athletes of Special Olympics Florida over the last 43 years. There have been so many achievements in Mills’ career that a retirement party was held on November 3 after the Sallarulo Race For Champions at Nova Southeastern University.
Please join us in wishing Linda a very happy retirement as she steps down from the position of Broward County Director at the end of this year!