As a girl, Kate Hickie saw that, sometimes, the world can be unkind. Her sister had a cleft palate, and Hickie remembers how some people reacted when the girls were out and about. “Seeing people giving her these awful looks,” she said. “It was horrible how they treated her.”
That experience taught Hickie the importance of empathy and action – principles that animated a volunteer career spanning more than 40 years. In recognition of National Volunteer Month, we honor the commitment of Hickie and other volunteers who work to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
“Everyone is an individual – we all have our talents,” she says. “That’s what I always wanted to get across.”
Hickie began volunteering with special education students in her early teens while living in New Jersey. She studied education in college, ultimately earning a graduate degree in Special Education.In 1980, Hickie, then a college gymnastics coach, began volunteering with Special Olympics International, helping to expand its gymnastics offerings. She moved to Florida in 2001, becoming a Pre-K special education teacher in Collier County.
In Collier, Hickie became a champion of our Young Athletes program, adopting it for her students and spreading it throughout the county. She grew the Special Olympics Florida gymnastics program, eventually overseeing Florida’s State Gymnastics Competition. Early this year, she authored Special Olympics Gymnastics: A 50 Year History, a review of the sport’s evolution within Special Olympics.
During her time as a volunteer, Hickie has held too many roles to count. She’s worked at the local, state, national and international levels. She’s run competitions and coached individual athletes. She’s trained coaches, rewritten rule books and served on committees. Like so many of our volunteers, she’s shared her time, talent and resources to make the world a little kinder and more accepting.
“I got a lot more out of it, than I ever gave,” she said. “Seeing an athlete smile because they learned a new skill or accomplished something they never expected, that’s such a thrill. That’s what it’s all about.”