Local Hero Award Recipients

Special Olympics spreads compassion and acceptance in a way that can unite the world. Our goal is to awaken everyone — and every community — to each person’s common humanity. Understanding brings acceptance; acceptance brings peace. This vision of inclusion starts at the local level and expands worldwide.

The Local Hero Award was created to celebrate remarkable individuals --inside and outside -- of our organization whose actions inspire a more accepting and inclusive world for people with intellectual disabilities.

Congratulations to our heroes making a difference in our communities!

David L. Singer Memorial Foundation Local Hero Award

David L. Singer Memorial Foundation

Special Olympics Florida supporter
April 2024 Award Recipient

Special Olympics Florida is thrilled to announce that the David L. Singer Memorial Foundation of South Florida has received the Local Hero Award for its steadfast work to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

For more than 40 years, the founders of the Foundation have been enthusiastic supporters of Special Olympics Florida and the athletes it serves in South Florida. Their support began while volunteering as members of the North Miami Beach Optimist Club. Initially, the group hosted a field day for Special Olympics athletes which earned the attention of the international program and recognition as a sanctioned Special Olympics competition.

Established in 1991 by Alan H. Singer, a Miami-Dade financial consultant, the Foundation stands as a tribute to his son, David. David, who passed away from cancer in 1989, shared his father's passion for the games, volunteering alongside him and other members of the North Miami Beach Optimist Club.

The event is now called Special Olympics Florida’s Regional Track and Field Games and draws some 600 Special Olympics Florida athletes from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties each year. The children and grandchildren of the original members are now leading the effort, demonstrating their continued commitment to service and the organization’s mission. The Foundation is also a sponsor of Special Olympics Florida’s Race for Inclusion.

“For 41 years, the David L. Singer Foundation has demonstrated a tireless commitment to helping Special Olympics athletes lead happier, healthier, more satisfying lives,” said Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock. “The organization members are passionate advocates for people with intellectual disabilities and we are incredibly grateful to have their support. The Foundation and its leaders are champions of our mission, and we are honored to recognize them with the Special Olympics Florida Local Hero Award.”

Samantha Rodriguez award recipient

Samantha Rodriguez

Special Olympics Florida athlete, Seminole County
February 2022 Award Recipient

Like many people with intellectual disabilities, Samantha was never expected to become an elite athlete. Diagnosed at the age of 2 with autism, doctors said she might never walk and almost certainly wouldn’t play sports.

Samantha and her mother, Karina, took note of those opinions and set about proving them wrong. Samantha received intensive therapy and, over time, her balance improved. She joined Special Olympics Florida and learned to swim.

She began attending road races with Karina, an accomplished long-distance runner. Somewhere along the line, Samantha decided she wanted to begin running with her mom, so the two began training. It was hard, she said, but running “made me happy.”

She started with short distances, gradually adding mileage and racking up ribbons. In early October 2021, Samantha completed a virtual Boston Marathon –- 26.2 miles. A month later, she headed north and ran the New York City Marathon, becoming the youngest woman with autism to finish the race. The London Marathon is next on her list.

For her courage and determination, Special Olympics Florida is honored to recognize Samantha Rodriguez as a Hometown Hero.

Check out the media coverage of our 50th Anniversary celebration where Samantha received her award:

Pete Chiaravalle award recipient

Pete Chiaravalle

Knights of Columbus Chairman for Special Olympics Florida
February 2022 Award Recipient

Since 2013, Pete Chiaravalle has worked tirelessly to engage the Knights of Columbus with the mission of Special Olympics Florida.

He recruited Knights to be part of Special Olympics Florida’s county and area Summer Games. He organized a Knights of Columbus Day at Hard Rock Stadium and staged a Special Olympics Florida event at the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Under his leadership, the Knights have sponsored our bocce program and participated as Unified partners. They’ve also created a statewide competition to see which region can raise the most Polar Plunge money each year.

Pete’s incredible support of our athletes makes him a Special Olympics Florida Local Hero.

Check out the media coverage of our 50th Anniversary celebration where Pete received his award:

Chris Nikic

Special Olympics Florida athlete, Seminole County
November 2020 Award Recipient

Jennifer Whelchel

Universal Studios Employee
July 2019 Award Recipient