Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
The alcove in the rear is stuffed with tables, dressers, picture frames, stools and a myriad of other pieces of furniture that are scattered around the floor and lining the walls in Big Lots. The small crowd that had squeezed itself in among these household goods on Aug. 11 was kibitzing and waiting for a large, cardboard check to exchange hands.
The presentation was to award Lamar Middle School's LIFE (Living In a Functional Environment) skills class, which won one of two 1st place prizes in Lots2Give, a video contest sponsored by Big Lots through which students explained why their school needed money. LIFE is a special education class, and the program that needs money is their Special Olympics track team, the Irving Stars.
Rick Komimski, the district manager for Big Lots in the Dallas market, was very helpful in explaining the particulars of the contest.
“The schools make a video about why the school needs money, which they send to Big Lots,” Komimski said. “The videos are then voted on by the general population.”
This year there were 468,000 votes cast in determining which schools around the nation would receive the thirty-seven cash prizes.
Kominski began the awards ceremony by telling the crowd about Big Lots’ involvement with Lots2Give
“Big Lots started the program about four years ago,” he said. “The idea is about giving back to the community, and there's not a better way to give back to the community except to the schools and our future leaders. It's the most important part – our kids.”
After Komimski spoke, Michelle Holman, Lamar's LIFE skills teacher, said a few words about how far this video had reached.
“I was actually in Nebraska last week and met a coffee barista who was voting for us, and her whole coffee place was voting for us, which was completely random and amazing and really showed support,” Holman said.
Soon after, the $10,159 check was passed off, the crowd started picking through the assorted sweets that Big Lots had provided as refreshments.
No one would guess Holman was the woman responsible for the day. Dressed like a suburban mom in black slacks and a reserved purple top, she was one of the few faculty or staff of Irving ISD who was not wearing a name badge. There was nothing to point out that her hard work was one of the reasons this event was even happening.
But she was more than happy to point out how much the Irving Stars need this money. Although the kids attend Irving ISD schools and play for a school team, they receive absolutely no funding from the school system.
“It costs $1,200 for three track meets a year, and we have to raise every penny,” Holman said. “We're not funded through regular ed athletics. We borrow uniforms from the track team; and the PTA donated money to get equipment. We wanted to find a way to insure for several years that our kids would be able to compete.”
Nimitz High School offers LIFE basketball and volleyball as well as track, but Holman says that at the moment, it is too expensive for either Lamar or Bowie.
“We want to insure that our kids are able to go to enough track meets to work.”
Vallorie Montgomery, a LIFE skills teacher at Bowie Middle School went into further detail about the difficulties facing the Stars.
“Transportation is definitely the most expensive thing because we have to hire the buses for that part of the day,” Montgomery said. “But it's not just the necessary things that the school is lacking, but important spirit boosting elements as well.
“Every school's that's really involved and has lots of money has matching uniforms and a big banner when we have an opening parade,” she continued. “We're usually carrying posters.”
Patty and Miguel Martinez' daughter, Zeta, runs the fifty meter and also plays on the softball team. Patty expressed how happy they both were about the potential of this award.
“This $10,000 gives them their first budget ever, and it's going to allow them to purchase some of the inconsequential things that people take for granted when teams are put together,” Martinez said.
Debbie Elizondo is very happy that the Stars has enabled her daughter, Emma, to become an athlete.
“My daughter does two sports that are totally perfect for her because she can't walk very well. So she does a 50 meter walk because she couldn't do a 100 meter run or something like that.” Elizondo said. Emma also competes in the tennis ball throw.
This year, South Africa's Oscar Pistorius became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. We are in a day and age when barriers between people are being overcome at a breathtaking rate and with an exhilarating energy. These students are doing their part to represent their city and to become true competitors.