Taking Special Olympians to new heights.

By: Donna M Navedo Sexton
Manager-Corporate Communications

Meet Aaron Sheppard - software engineer, photographer and proud father of a special athlete.

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While touring his son’s school in Broken Arrow, OK, Aaron Sheppard noticed larger-than-life pictures of able-bodied athletes lining the halls, but none of the special needs athletes like his son Elijah, who had recently joined the Broken Arrow Special Olympics. He decided to put his technology and photography talents to good use.

Aaron Sheppard is a software systems engineer in Verizon’s Finance Operations organization. In addition to being very talented with tech, he is also an avid photographer.

To support other parents of student athletes with special needs, Aaron offered to photograph the BASO students, giving them a new platform to be seen.

“I started doing it when they formed the team, the same year my son joined, and I noticed they did huge photos (30 feet tall) for their 'regular' athletes and nothing for the special needs,” he said.

Not only does Aaron’s effort bring attention to the Special Olympics program, it gives the athletes and their families a sense of pride when they can share proud images of their achievements.

Aaron volunteers about 40 hours each year to photograph and process images for the athletes and their families, and takes no money in return. He simply wants to support his son and others like him who deserve to be seen.

“It's between 100 to 200 athletes depending on the year; and I give them free downloads, they can take the photos with their family, then over the next two to three weeks, I do my post-processing and then put them out on a secure website that I continue to pay for just for this group. The biggest thing is making sure the athletes know they are not forgotten. Especially in this last year when many of their activities were canceled due to the pandemic.”

The Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and activities to more than 5 million participants around the world.

During the pandemic, programs like the Special Olympics and others that support those with special needs were put on hold due to our need to stay socially distant. For people with special needs positive, constructive interaction is important to developing social and cognitive skills that many of us take for granted.

As we look towards kids going back to school, let’s remember that we can all have an impact, big or small, in a student’s future. Check out the Verizon portal for volunteer opportunities such as the CareerVillage inclusive STEM event to support accessibility for all children. More information about our Verizon ADVANCE community and their sponsored events are also available on our website.

Learn more about the Special Olympics, and how you can be an ally or If you are in the Tulsa area, check out the Broken Arrow Special Olympics program online.

Do you have a story you want to share? Email us at Good@Verizon.com and tell us about it.

About the author:

Donna is part of the Corporate Employee Communications team, focused on our socially responsible business practices through Citizen Verizon's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives and the Women's CoLab.

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