Written by: Shelbie Eakins, Florida Good
More than 20 members of law enforcement filled the Longhorn Steakhouse in Ocala, but they weren’t there on a 911 call.
The staff of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office spent Thursday evening as guest wait staff to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics during their Tip-A-Cop event. The deputies shadowed and assisted the 11 Longhorn servers who were already on the floor.
Sheriff Billy Woods enjoyed seeing his staff interact with the community in a positive way.
“A lot of time people’s interaction with law enforcement is when we put handcuffs on them or when we stop them for a traffic stop,” Woods said. “The truth is that without our community we would be nothing. We want our community to be safe and we want to help every person that we can.”
For that night in particular, Special Olympics athletes like Zachary Deonath were the ones receiving help.
Deonath, 23, competes in stand up paddle and cycling. Competition and travel costs can add up quickly for the county program. It is that reality that motivates Woods and others to fundraise.
“It’s all for our athletes. Raising money for them allows them and their families to participate in county, area, state, national and world games,” Woods said.
Athletes from Central Florida sometimes go on to the World Games. Most recently Renee Phifer, a student at Santa Fe High School and equestrian athlete, won three gold medals at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Dubai in April.
Stories like Phifer’s continue to inspire Sergeant Juan Ocasio, who has volunteered with Special Olympics for decades.
“For over 20 years I’ve been part of Special Olympics,” Ocasio said. “I’ve actually been a part of Special Olympics since I was in high school. It’s something that’s been really dear to my heart.”