COLUMBIA — As thousands gathered for the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games this weekend in Columbia, one family was sure to attend.
Gary Wilbers, 45, first volunteered at the annual event in 1994, and it quickly became a passion for him. He and his family members from Wardsville have returned each year since. Then in 2008, he joined the Special Olympics Missouri board of directors.
The Special Olympics became more of a "family affair” when his family became involved. His wife, Dana, 42, and children, Chris, 14, Adam, 12, and Elle, 11, also participate annually.
On Saturday, Dana Wilbers coordinated the long jump, while Gary Wilbers served as an event manager completing miscellaneous tasks, including directing the pentathlon competition.
The children assist in many ways, such as raking the dirt in the long jump pit when they were younger. Gary Wilbers is expecting a greater role for his children as they grow older.
“We just think it’s a great event and an environment for our kids to be able to help others and be able to give up their time,” he said.
Special Olympics is known to help athletes develop. In this case, the Wilbers children have grown, too.
“We’ve really seen that it makes a difference in (our children’s) lives, too, because how they can treat others knowing that we’re all people and when we find out that Special Olympics athletes are no different than you or I, and it just allows us then to translate that into the real world,” Gary Wilbers said.
After volunteering for more than five years, Chris Wilbers recognizes Special Olympics as the athletes’ “own event."
"It’s their own day to do whatever they want,” he said.
The family is “hooked,” according to Dana Wilbers, and next year, you can count on the family to be there, volunteering once again.