To help support the 3,000 athletes of the Special Olympics of New Hampshire, nearly 30 police departments across the state will spend their Saturday afternoon at Irving and Circle K locations across the state pumping gas, cleaning windows and soliciting donations.
Twenty-eight police departments, including Candia, Portsmouth, Belmont, Laconia, Merrimack, and Hudson, will be joined by Special Olympics athletes from around New England for the annual To Serve and Protect Day, which is part of the monthlong Special Olympics Fuel For Dreams promotion.
“We did it last year for the first time, and it was a lot of fun. I am really looking forward to doing it again,” Candia Police Chief Michael McGillen said.
McGillen, who said the department raised a couple hundred dollars last year, added that the event makes the officers involved feel good because they know they are helping children.
“And it shows a different side of the officers to the public; people see us doing something helpful for the community that goes beyond arresting bad guys. I think it is very worthwhile,” McGillen said.
Having met many of the athletes the fundraiser will support, McGillen said it is evident Special Olympians want to be treated like everybody else.
“It is fun to go out and do this. It is a good chance for officers to interact with the public in a very positive way while also allowing us to interact with the athletes, which is an amazing experience,” said David Colby, a detective and prosecutor with the Portsmouth Police Department.
Colby, who serves as the department’s liaison to the Special Olympics, said the relationship between police departments and the Special Olympics can have a very big impact on the lives of the officers.
“It is truly one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life,” Colby said.
To Serve and Protect Day, which has been going on since 1999, raised more than $100,000 in New Hampshire last year, a total that Ashley Lawson, development coordinator for the Special Olympics of New Hampshire, said should be surpassed this year with even more police departments participating.
“I think that the partnership with law enforcement is important to both sides. They feel very passionate about supporting the athletes and their achievement. It is great to see the mutual respect that they have for each other. It is a very special relationship, and we are very fortunate for them to be our partners,” Lawson said.
Lawson said that along with police departments, participating Circle K and Irving Gas Stations also deserve to be recognized for the help they are providing.
“It is great to have businesses help out with this. You can see how engaged the employees get, how much they want to support the Special Olympics. Then you see many of them volunteer on their own time. This has grown beyond just a month long promotion, it is really a year long partnership as well,” Lawson said.
However, for the To Serve and Protect Day to be a success, Lawson said local communities must come out to support it.
“Everything is dependent on the residents who come out to support it,” Lawson said.