SIKESTON -- Several years of hard work have paid off for Troop E of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Sikeston satellite's commander, Lt. Jim McNiell.
Last month Troop E received Outstanding Agency of the Year, and McNiell was awarded Outstanding Volunteer/Unsung Hero in Region 6 for their sales of Law Enforcement Torch Run T-shirts, which provide funding for Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO).
Although Troop E is extremely honored, McNiell said winning the awards isn't the biggest reward they receive from helping SOMO.
"I was very honored whenever I heard about the award and Troop E's awards, but recognition is not what it's about. It's about helping a special group of people," McNiell said.
The people McNiell is referring to are the athletes who make up SOMO. Special Olympics is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with mental disabilities. Nearly 12,959 athletes currently participate in the program.
Troop E has been involved with SOMO for the last 17 years; and McNiell, who is also the coordinator of T-shirt sales for Region 6, has volunteered for 10 years.
Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Sgt. Larry Plunkett said McNiell does a good job of coordinating for Troop E. He is responsible for organizing T-shirt sales for SOMO's Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) and he coordinates with other agencies, Plunkett added.
"Lt. McNiell works really hard on the project," Plunkett said. "The organization is very special to the kids who participate in Special Olympics. It's a great cause."
The LETR is an organization made up of law enforcement agencies from around the world. The Missouri LETR supports the athletes of Special Olympics Missouri through their volunteer fundraising efforts.
The highway patrol gives 110 percent working on this event, McNiell said. It's a year-round event, and the patrol sets up booths and tables at area businesses, selling Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run T-shirts.
In addition to the highway patrol, other law enforcement agencies that make up Region 6 include the Sikeston DPS, Southeast Correctional Center, Miner Police Department, Charleston Police Department, Dexter Police Department, Poplar Bluff Police Department and Malden Police Department.
The Missouri Police Chiefs Association is the founding law enforcement organization for Missouri's Torch Run for Special Olympics. What began as a 30-mile run is now a four-day relay that covers more than 950 miles with 1,000 runners.
"Special Olympics makes a difference not only to the athletes, but their families, the community and law enforcers as well," said Susan Stegeman, LETR director. "I think the law enforcers get to know the athletes at the events and then they're hooked. They see the athletes once a year and it's enough to give them a shot in the arm to keep raising money for Special Olympics each year."
Each year in May, Special Olympics Missouri holds their summer games at Fort Leonardwood. A couple days before the games, each region takes a lighted torch and runs to different areas. The purpose of the torch run is to heighten the awareness of Special Olympics, McNiell said. In Region 6, the torch run begins at Poplar Bluff. Then the torch is run from Poplar to Dexter, from Dexter to Sikeston and Sikeston to Cape Girardeau.
Currently $856,000 has been raised statewide by law enforcement agencies for 2002 -- and they're still counting, Stegeman said. There were 167 different agencies involved in 55 different fundraisers including the sale of 30,000 Torch Run T-shirts.
"Many area businesses continue to buy our T-shirts year after year," McNiell said. "In fact, I've already had people ask me about this year's version of the shirts. Times are hard right now, but people are still willing to help out, especially in the Sikeston community. We appreciate their contributions."
Troop E also was honored for the highest gross increase of $8,649 and greatest percentage increase of 860 percent within Region 6. According to Stegeman Troop E raised $17,609 and Region 6 raised $51,169.
Nearly 72 percent of every dollar raised goes toward Special Olympics, Stegeman said. For the first three quarters of 2002, approximately 1,156 new athletes joined the organization in Missouri, she added.
"It's a monumental and good team effort," McNiell said about volunteering. "Teamwork is what it's all about."
McNiell said any business who would like to get involved with selling T-shirts or anyone who has fundraising ideas should contact Troop E at (573) 472-5200.