Special Olympics Mississippi – The perfect community partnership Published April 29, 2016 By Master Sgt. Kyle Grantham Mathies NCO Academy KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss -- It takes attributes like dedication, loyalty, honesty, collaboration, and trust to nurture a relationship for 30 years--it’s no easy feat. The difficulty of the task is even represented by a rare gemstone, a pearl, on a couples’ 30th wedding anniversary. Over the past three decades, dedicated Airmen from Team Keesler have invested countless hours to support and advance the Special Olympics of Mississippi’s mission. This partnership transcends service affiliation as members from each military branch as well as Defense Department civilians, contractors, and family members that collaborate to support this awesome event. These qualities fuel relationships and cements Keesler as a staple in the Gulf Coast community. Five years ago, I became part of the Special Olympics Mississippi family as an active committee member and every year I look forward to the month of May as our team rolls out another flagship event that benefits the lives and hearts of those with special needs and their families. Rarely do so many people, regardless of race, religion, color or creed join forces and witness an experience as rewarding for the volunteers as it is for the participants and their families. The planning process is a well-oiled machine, led by some of the finest people I’ve ever had an opportunity to work with. Lifelong relationships have been cultivated from my experiences with SOMS. I met Al Watkins in my first year and he quickly became one of my most trusted mentors. Jackie Pope has become my SOMS resident mother. Fittingly so, I get to give her a big Mother’s Day hug the Sunday after the event. Undoubtedly there are many things that continue to draw me in, but the most important and valuable part of the experience are the athletes and their families. As the athletes begin to arrive the Friday before the event, the level of excitement and positive energy is almost overwhelming. The Triangle is filled with some of our newest & youngest leaders escorting their assigned athletes and their families around. The athletes are clearly thrilled with the interaction and are excited to compete. They eagerly await the arrival of the torch carried by base leadership and some of Biloxi’s finest law enforcement officers. As volunteers, we are making lifelong memories for these competitors which brings a level of satisfaction that, to me, is priceless. My favorite activity is the interaction with the athletes and their Airmen sponsors. During this awesome event, I respectfully challenge every person to stop an athlete in the Triangle and ask them about their event, have them show you their medals, and watch their faces light up as they talk about what an amazing time they are having. Finally, recognize their Airmen sponsors and thank them for leading. Make sure they know the impact they are making on someone’s life and Keesler’s ability to partner and continue to cultivate the 30 year relationship we have with the great state of Mississippi.