Shawnee leaders approve plan to provide programming for residents with special needs

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — The city of Shawnee will soon provide new programming for residents with special needs.

On Monday, the city council voted 5-3 in favor of allocating funds in the 2022 Parks and Recreation budget. That money will be used to create a new part-time position in the city’s parks department to create and coordinate programs and activities for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The change comes after Shawnee Storm, the local branch of Special Olympics Kansas, made a request to have the city take over administrative responsibilities for the team. 

“They’ve had no program. If we can even have a part-time programmer for Special Olympics, that would be a huge step in the right direction that would really help this group,” Councilmember Kurt Knappen said. 

Deputy Parks and Recreation Director Tonya Lecuru presented the council with seven different options for supporting the Shawnee Storm. Lecuru also provided the council with a side-by-side comparison of other Special Olympic teams in the area, including the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District (JCPRD) Rangers, the Blue Valley Blue Streaks , and the Olathe Trailblazers.

Peggy Schmitt, local program co-coordinator for Special Olympics Shawnee, said the team operates entirely on volunteer support. Schmitt said the team needs assistance with things like uniforms, facility rental fees for practices and assistance with administrative responsibilities. 

According to city documents, the team supports 55 athletes, of which 32 participants (roughly 58%) are Shawnee residents. The team participates in eight of the 22 sports offered through Special Olympics Kansas. Each athlete pays a $15 fee per eight-week season. 

Schmitt said that covers about 10% of the total costs; all other revenue comes from fundraising and charitable donations. 

Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell made a motion to approve funding for a full-time employee to take over the administrative duties for Shawnee Storm and oversee adaptive services for the city. The council voted 5-3 to reject that proposal. 

“This is about ensuring all residents have access to programs, facilities, places and spaces regardless of where they live, their income, ethnicity, age, special needs or gender,” Larson-Bunnell said. “Our failure as a city to provide these services in the past should not be the reason we do not move towards upholding our own mission, vision and values now.” 

Shannon Shelton, a case manager for adults and children that rely on intellectual and/or developmental disability(I/DD) waivers, told the council how the programming affects residents with limited options for support.   

“Special Olympics for the adults on my caseload is life-saving. Once you roll into adulthood at age 21, when school services stop, there is nothing. There is a complete void. There is nothing for socialization,” Shelton said. 

Councilmember Tammy Thomas suggested everyone who wrote a letter to the council in support of Shawnee Storm donate $50 a month to help fund the team. 

“I don’t believe that the running and the leadership of this organization belongs in city government. I don’t believe it falls on the shoulders of government at all,” Thomas said. “Why do we need to take a program such as this and hand it to government and say take care of us? It’s from your heart. You either believe in it or you don’t.” 

Councilmember Eric Jenkins said he feels by offering administrative support to the Shawnee Storm, the city would be obligated to provide equal levels of funding or staff support to other local nonprofits. 

“I think it’s inappropriate for us to go there and to start integrating city staff with private organizations,” Jenkins said. 

Lecuru said the part-time employee will assist with adaptive programming as a whole and will provide some assistance to the Shawnee Storm without being solely responsible for the team’s administrative duties. 

“We looked at adaptive recreation as a way to introduce special needs programming, not just for the Shawnee Storm,” Lecuru said. “We love them, we are here with them, but there’s other people in our community that maybe aren’t into sports or athletics. If we this [adaptive programming], we started promoting and doing advertising and other things with them, then we could grow.”   

Schmitt said while the final agreement is not what the organization originally asked for, it’s a good first step and they are grateful for the city’s support. 

The council will cast a final vote on allocating funding for the part-time position when the council reviews the 2022 budget proposal in August. 

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