What is it that sends our Apex police officers jumping into frozen waters, climbing high atop the roofs of buildings, roaring down our highways on motorcycles, or sprinting through our town?
The Special Olympics, that’s what!
More specifically, the North Carolina Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. The Apex Police Department is one of hundreds of law enforcement agencies across our state dedicated to raising money and awareness for this highly visible and increasingly significant mission. And it’s so much more than just police officers delivering a flame to the opening ceremonies of the NC Special Olympics Summer Games.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics started in Wichita, Kansas in 1981 and came to North Carolina in 1987. Today, this worldwide campaign involves nearly 100,000 law enforcement officers and serves hundreds of thousands of athletes. Here at home, Apex officers participate in ongoing local and statewide fundraising events. Last year, North Carolina raised $1.3 million, adding to the over $100 million raised nationwide.
Apex Police Lieutenant Joey Best has been involved with the LETR for Special Olympics for 14 years and is on the NCLETR Council. “We’re engaged in fundraising campaigns—anything you can think of—to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics athletes. My role is to help push this out to more agencies and more officers, from corrections officers to state employees to local beat cops.”
Every year, typically in March, the Polar Plunge kicks off fundraising events for the Apex Police Department. For a $25 donation, the public can join our law enforcement officers for a quick dip in a local pool. It’s not for the faint of heart, however. Best recalls one year when it had been in the single digits the week leading up to the Plunge. It was snowing at the event and the water temperature was just above freezing. “It’s the coldest I’ve ever been,” Best says. “Last year, it had been in the 50s all week, but there was absolutely no difference between the two years.”
Local businesses regularly partner with Apex officers for events like Cops-On-Top that puts officers on the roofs of some restaurants to raise money, and Tip-A-Cop which sends them inside other eateries to serve customers and collect tips for their campaign. A new idea last year, a 100-mile Motorcycle Ride from Apex to Saxapahaw, proved to be very successful and Best expects to repeat the event again this fall.
A Golf Tournament held every September is especially popular among Apex businesses of all sizes. Individuals pay to play golf with Apex police officers, and businesses partner with the Department by purchasing sponsorships. The tournament has some operating costs associated with it, but local restaurants generously donate food for the day, which helps keep expenses down.
The Torch Run relay is considered a statewide event and actually involves several torches symbolic of the Special Olympics “Flame of Hope.” Best explains that, “Logistically, it would be nearly impossible to carry one torch from one end of the state to the other so we have several torches, and agencies run them, walk them, and pass them to another agency. In the past, we’ve handed off to Cary who then hands it off to Raleigh. There are legs that start all over the state, but the final leg is just one torch.” Although Special Olympics competitions are held across the state all year long, the relay will end at N.C. State’s Centennial Campus this year to kick off the Special Olympics North Carolina Summer Games.
North Carolina’s law enforcement agencies are coming up with new events every year. In fact, an award is given to the agency that develops the best new or reinvented idea. There have been dodgeball tournaments, costume-themed Polar Plunges, and a wide variety of rooftops that have seen Cops-On-Top events. Best says, “We’re trying to encourage non-traditional thinking to get people involved. The [agency] that won this past year had a softball game where it was Cops versus Firefighters. And anytime you get cops and firefighters in an event…!”
There’s plenty of friendly competition between agencies when it comes to fundraising. “Holly Springs just came on board last year and they raised more than we did!” Best says. “I told our folks, we’ve got to step it up! Our first year, we raised a few hundred dollars. The most we’ve ever raised was in 2015. We raised $24,000, which put us in the top ten. That was one of the proudest moments I’ve had being involved with [the Apex Police Department].”
Much of the money that the Apex Police Department raises comes from individual participants or spectators at the events held throughout the year. “I’ve had little kids come up and put their pocket change in,” Best says. “Some people drop in $100 dollar bills. Other people write $1,000 checks. With face-to-face contact with people, we have that human connection. We explain what the Special Olympics is all about and people say, ‘This is something I can really feel good about giving to.’”
Going forward, Best is hoping to involve more local businesses in the fundraising effort. Bronze, silver, gold, and premier sponsorships are available at the state level and a business stands to gain considerable exposure through having their name on posters and other print material, as well as on tens of thousands of t-shirts sold every year.
“We typically don’t do cold-calling,” Best says, “but we may go to a business and say, ‘This is what we have going on, are you interested in helping us?’ Sometimes they will. At [an event] like our golf tournament, with a certain donation level you can become a corporate partner with us. I’m always looking for a premier sponsor, especially for the tournament and the motorcycle ride.”
For the Apex Police Department, the events they sponsor and participate in every year represent much more than just an effort to raise money and awareness for the campaign. They’re establishing relationships and partnerships with the Apex community in order to help serve the 41,000 Special Olympics athletes in North Carolina.
For Best, “It’s a privilege for me [to see] the faces of these athletes when we put medals around their necks because they have accomplished their goals. Every time I hear an athlete and their parent or guardian talk about the impact we make on their lives, I truly realize the blessings that I receive from being a part of this. People with intellectual disabilities are in all walks of life. They’re not less fortunate, they just have a different path in life and we benefit from interacting with these athletes.”
Learn more about the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics in North Carolina from their website (sonc.net) and Facebook page (North Carolina Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics). Watch the Apex Police Department Facebook page for information about supporting Apex officers in upcoming events.