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New Orleans Saints Charity Spotlight: Special Olympics Louisiana

Posted Sep 22, 2013

Special Olympics Louisiana was the Saints initiative at the Arizona Cardinals game

Special Olympics Louisiana was founded in 1968 with 11 athletes. Since then, Special Olympics Louisiana has increased significantly to 13,700 athletes.

In 1972, Pat Carpenter Bourgeois got involved with Special Olympics as a volunteer. Little did she know that, after 40 years of participating, she would be representing the Special Olympics Louisiana as President and CEO.

When Bourgeois was a teenager, she was introduced to a young man in her neighborhood that had a disability. She recalls how his family was ashamed of him.

“He was never allowed to go outside. His parents wouldn’t let him go outside of his home because he has a disability,” Bourgeois said. “They felt like he couldn’t learn, and I believed that he could.”

That encounter pushed Bourgeois to pursue a degree in special education and to volunteer for Special Olympics Louisiana out of college.

New Orleans Saints Owner/Vice Chairman of the Board, Rita Benson LeBlanc has led the organization in its support of Special Olympics Louisiana. On Nov. 8, the fifth-annual Special Olympics Louisiana event and fundraiser, “Over the Edge”, will take place at the Benson Tower.

Saints FB Jed Collins is very active with the organization and represents Special Olympics Louisiana as an ambassador. At last summer’s Special Olympics Louisiana competition in Hammond, Collins was accompanied by C Brian de la Puente as he served as an Honorary Coach.

At the games, one of the athletes had a special moment with de la Puente. The pair was able to communicate and have a conversation as de la Puente knows sign language. Bourgeois recalls how ecstatic the athlete was to be able to talk with someone.

“And that was such a great thing for Brian to interact with him. These kids couldn’t be happier to have Saints players around.” Bourgeois said.

Special Olympics athlete, Theo, said that he loves that the Saints are active in his organization.

“I love Jed; Jed Collins is cool. But my favorite player is right here,” Theo said while he pointed to the No. 9 Drew Brees jersey he was wearing.

Bourgeois also mentioned how in the last seven years, Special Olympics Louisiana has grown to be so much more than a sports organization. They have incorporated a health program that will not only make their athletes healthier, but provide them with health screenings like hearing, vision and dental exams. The doctors in the health program volunteer their time to help make these athletes healthier.

Each year, more than 14,000 volunteers take time out to help with Special Olympics events, Bourgeois said.

“Most people come to the Special Olympics believing they can do something for us. And it turns out, they’re really doing something for themselves because they are so touched and inspired by our athletes.”

For more information about Special Olympics Louisiana and the upcoming “Over the Edge” event, visit www.laso.org.