335th TRS instructor feeds Olympians

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Keesler volunteers often get involved with Special Olympics to reach out, serve and be part of an exciting weekend. For Staff Sgt. Dennis Johns, the motivation is a little more personal.

Johns, an instructor in the 335th Training Squadron for nearly two years, has a 10-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, so he has a heightened awareness of the opportunities the games provide for people with developmental challenges.

"It's an unforgettable experience to be with the athletes as they work to overcome a disability and accomplish, in my opinion, physical feats of greatness," the Salt Lake City native said. "It's a reminder not to take anything for granted, and it's really a fun experience being involved with the games at any level."

  May 8-10 is the 29th time Keesler has hosted the games in the state program's 40-year history. This year, 700 athletes, plus their coaches, family members and an estimated 3,000 volunteers, will be involved in the event.

Johns became one of those volunteers 12 years ago when he came to Keesler for his initial technical training. He's been involved with Special Olympics in some capacity for the past eight years, usually helping to get the athletes to their individual events.

This is the second year he's headed the feeding committee that provides lunch on Saturday. The team is comprised of volunteers from the Biloxi Police Department, the Keesler First Sergeants Council and other groups.

"It's a feat to organize all of the volunteers and then get those 80 people to build 2,000 to 3,000 lunches in just a couple of hours," Johns pointed out.

The meals are assembled outside of Bryan Hall facing the Triangle, a central area for the weekend's activities.

"Most of the athletes come by to pick up their lunches," Johns remarked. "Our main objective is for the athletes to eat, but the student escorts eat and any volunteers that come by eat as well. We also deliver some of the lunches to nearby off-base venues where events are being conducted."

The lunches usually consist of a hamburger, chips, dessert, fruit, condiments and cold water or soft drinks.

"Last year my kids helped with the feeding," the father of four continued. "Just seeing how much fun they had volunteering, serving someone else, is what makes this so much fun for me."

Johns also serves as a scoutmaster for a local Boy Scout troop, but said there's something different about working with Special Olympics.

"I've never seen the kind of joy and energy that surround the athletes and volunteers anywhere else," he explained. "It's truly a remarkable thing to see so many people willing to step up and give a hug, smile, or a hand of support."

In urging others to get involved as Special Olympics volunteers, Johns stressed, "You will never forget the experience, and it will make you want to be a part of this awesome community and take more opportunities to volunteer."

To volunteer, call the Special Olympics hotline, 228-376-SOMS (7667).