Mary Jean Owen is the kind of person we might all strive to be. She’s kind, considerate, loving, and joyful. But combine those traits with “courageous, spirited, dedicated, and persistent,” and you have a person whose athletic abilities have waged war on negative perceptions and have crushed barriers. Consequently, in this Roswell resident you see a typical member of our Special Olympics family.
In 1970, Special Olympics New Mexico (SONM) opened its doors to spread the mission of Special Olympics and serve individuals with intellectual disabilities, their family members and the community at large. For over 40 years, thousands of Special Olympics athletes like Mary Jean have benefited physically and emotionally from the accomplishments achieved by training and competing in sport.
In 1998, retired Major General Francis Nye, whose own daughter Cynthia competed in Special Olympics, saw the direct impact on the health and wellness of those with intellectual disabilities and their family members, and the immediate need for a sustainable Special Olympics program in New Mexico. Nye thus helped create what is now SONM’s endowment fund called “The Family Tree.”
“It was always a thrill to watch Cindy compete, and to see how happy a person can be by participating and winning,” said Nye. “Thus, it was obvious at the time that the Special Olympics [New Mexico] office needed help. They were doing a wonderful job, but needed help.”
Nye not only helped establish the endowment fund, but also served as its lead donor—purchasing the Family Tree in honor of his daughter Cynthia J. Nye, which to this day is proudly displayed at the chapter office in Albuquerque. Since its inception, the Family Tree Endowment has grown to over $60,000.
For Mary Jean’s sister, Lizzy, SONM’s Family Tree was a perfect place to honor not only Mary Jean’s achievements, but also their late mother.
“Mama loved our Special Olympics events,” said Lizzy. “She came to practices, competitions, fundraisers—anything just to be with our athletes. When she passed away we thought buying a stone to place under the branches of the tree was an awesome way to honor her, as well as give something back that would help sustain the future of Special Olympics New Mexico.”
To extend the opportunity to honor and celebrate those we love with a contribution to the endowment fund, in 2004 SONM also created a “Friendship Tree” to establish and sustain the framework for future SONM athletes and families through the Albuquerque Community Foundation.
“For the past twenty years we have worked hard to build a Special Olympics New Mexico that will thrive long after all of us are gone,” said SONM Executive Director Randy Mascorella. “Because the thought of our athletes and families not having Special Olympics as part of their lives is simply unacceptable, endowing our future is imperative. There are many people who love our mission and have been changed by it – people who don’t have a Special Olympics athlete in their family. Thus, the creation of our Friendship Tree – a wonderful way to honor any volunteer, coach, local coordinator, or friend of Special Olympics New Mexico and invest in our future.”
The amount of the gift is distinguished by a gold, silver or bronze leaf and can be purchased with an investment as low as $250. These gifts are then pooled together to build and endowment that has the strength of a large financial investment while maintaining the donor’s individuality while creating a very special way to honor a family member, friend, or loved one.
The Friendship Tree, which follows the same philosophy as “The Family Tree” now allows SONM friends to become an even more integral part of the SONM family. With a gift of $250 (Giver of Courage), $500 (Giver of Joy), $1,000 (Giver of Hope), or $2,500 (Giver of Life) our friends will join the ranks of a very special group of people. SONM Friendship Tree contributors embody the spirit of sport and truly inspire greatness among our athletes.
For more information about our Family Tree and/or Friendship Tree, contact Christine Sandoval at (505) 856-0342.