Legendary Olympian Rafer Johson Commences The Games


SHERMAN OAKS, CA (2015) – On Friday, May 29, more than 120 students from The Help Group’s Early Education Programs participated in the Special Olympics Southern California Young Athletes Festival at its Sherman Oaks Campus. The inaugural Young Athletes Program at The Help Group that culminated with the festival is for students ages three to seven with autism and other special needs, and offers a specialized curriculum that incorporates active games, music and other play activities to help develop sports skills.

Dr. Barbara Firestone, President & CEO, The Help Group welcomed families and special guests from the Southern California Special Olympics. “Today is a special occasion to mark the tremendous accomplishments of our youngest athletes. What’s exceptional about Young Athletes is its foundational sports skills training that has enabled us to expand our sports and play programs, and allow us to offer even more innovative ways to teach and provide the very best for our students.”

Opening ceremonies were highlighted with the renowned Parade of Athletes and congratulatory remarks from Bill Shumard, President & CEO, Special Olympics Southern California and Rafer Johnson, Founder, Special Olympics Southern California and Olympic Gold Medalist.  The Festival games commenced and included a variety of sporting events modeled after the Special Olympics along with a celebratory ribbon ceremony. To mark this occasion with a musical performance, The Help Group Choir sang a spirited rendition of “Fly”, a song written by best-selling recording artist Avril Lavigne and dedicated to the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.

Bill Shumard spoke about importance of engaging younger children in the Special Olympics tradition. “The Special Olympics are everything that’s good and right about sports. When we see young athletes begin to build self-confidence and self-esteem, we know we’re changing their lives where it really makes a difference.”

Rafer Johnson, who led the Athlete Oath and commenced the games with the time-honored “Let the Games Begin.” Johnson commented, “These young people are one day going to be running and jumping further than they or you ever expected to achieve. That’s what it’s all about, we hope to inspire them to do the hard work that it ends up being.”

At the World Games in July, 30 of The Help Group’s young athletes are being sponsored by Toys R Us and have been invited to participate in “My First Sports Moment”, pre-game events to be held at the game venues in and around Los Angeles.



Founded in 1975, The Help Group is dedicated to helping young people with autism and other special needs fully realize their potential. It is the largest, most comprehensive nonprofit of its kind in the United States and is recognized as a leader in the field of autism. The Help Group offers a wide range of innovative autism spectrum disorders programs, and each day, 1000 students ages 3 – 22 attend its autism day schools.

The Help Group Young Learners Preschool for Autism

Young Learners Preschool for Autism is designed for children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental delays. This program assesses the nature and degree of the challenges each child is confronting and fosters development in all essential areas through an interdisciplinary approach.

Special Olympics Southern California
Special Olympics Southern California enriches the lives of more than 17,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities and their communities through sports, education, and athlete health. Founded in 1969 by Olympic decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson, Special Olympics Southern California provides free year-round sports training and competitions to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Participation develops improved physical fitness and motor skills and greater self-confidence. Special Olympics has become the world’s largest movement dedicated to promoting respect, acceptance, inclusion, and human dignity for people with intellectual disabilities. Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance. As a result, people with intellectual disabilities become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all. Learn how you can get involved at

Special Olympics Young Athletes
Special Olympics Young Athletes is an early childhood sports play program for children aged 2 to 7 years old that includes games, songs and other fun physical activities.  The young athletes learn basic sports skills like kicking and throwing a ball and playing with others. Children with and without disabilities play together and are introduced to sports. Families also have the opportunity to get involved in the fun and connect with the Special Olympics community of support. Young Athletes is an innovative sports play program that provides opportunities for young children with intellectual disabilities to be active, have fun, and learn foundational sports skills. It is a versatile program that can be offered by parents, volunteers and teachers at home, in the community or school.