DIXON – Spend just a few minutes with Christine Scheffler, and her message is clear – “You have to help people.”
Scheffler, of Dixon, has provided many people a lot of help. So much so that she has been named 2014 Special Olympics Illinois Outstanding Volunteer of the Year. She accepted the award June 13 at Illinois State University in Normal.
The Special Olympics Illinois motto – “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” – ignites Scheffler’s passion to serve.
So, too, does the organization’s emphasis on health and nutrition and on sports as a means to personal development. Scheffler, 48, is community wellness coordinator at KSB Hospital in Dixon. She said volunteering enhances her work through connections and extended relationships.
Debbie Kelly, who lives in Dixon and is area director for Special Olympics Illinois, nominated Scheffler for the statewide honor.
“In this area, Christine is my biggest volunteer, and the state has 40,000 registered volunteers,” Kelly said.
Scheffler said she didn’t know that she had won the award until about a month before the ceremony, after reading an email about the decision.
When she walked into Redbird Arena the evening of the awards presentation, she was overwhelmed, and tried her best not to cry. One of the presenters alongside her was a Special Olympics Illinois athlete who competed in the Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey.
“I don’t remember doing half the things she said I [did]. You just do them,” Scheffler said of the nomination paperwork that Kelly submitted.
“It’s like breathing,” Scheffler said. “You just do it.”
Why become a Special Olympics volunteer?
“It just gets in your blood,” she said.
“If everyone would just follow the Special Olympics motto. … If everyone would do random acts of kindness. … If we would all take the time to appreciate the smaller things, big things come out of it.”
The connection between Kelly and Scheffler started more than 20 years ago as they worked together at Kreider Services.
“She’s done everything from being a gofer at a pumpkin walk to leading the team,” Kelly said. “She’s a true example of what Special Olympics volunteers are all about.”
Kelly said she sees the difference that volunteers make, and that’s what leads to the program’s success.
“I don’t think the public realizes that Special Olympics is totally driven by volunteers,” said Kelly, who is the only paid staff member in the nine-county area she serves.
“The rest are volunteers, and I couldn’t do half of what I do without them.”
“Once you have a chance to see what Special Olympics does for people, and not just people with disabilities,” Kelly said, “… you come back.”
Whether it’s working in the rain or in dangerously cold temperatures, Scheffler has made sure to share the volunteering spirit with her family.
“From a young level, you have to do unconditional acts of kindness. You have to help people,” she said.
“Even my children, my husband, and my parents. … Oh, my gosh, what I’ve made my parents do over the years, … lots of woodworking, … ‘Dad, we need this repaired.’”
“Our children laugh because when we say they get to volunteer, they know it’s mandatory,” Kelly said with a chuckle.
“... [And] they don’t complain,” Scheffler added. “They don’t like to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, but they do it.”
Volunteering makes a difference, Kelly said, whether it’s for Special Olympics Illinois or any organization.
“We’re fortunate because they truly appreciate what we’re doing. … [They] see the difference in their child, sister, their family’s lives.”