Participants from the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Celebrating Athletes Of All Abilities

Held in the United States for the first time in 16 years, the recent Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles provided a chance for spectators to have their assumptions about people with intellectual disabilities changed forever.

For Russ Stacey, who has worked for NBCUniversal for nearly 40 years, it meant an opportunity to connect his employer with a cause and an organization he has been involved with for more than two decades.

Born in 1983, Russ’s son, Jonah, was developmentally delayed and soon diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He is also deaf, following hearing loss that began when he was 7. "You worry for your child that they aren’t going to be socially included in life, and that they will be relegated to being at home with just TV or video games, instead of with a group of friends that they can enjoy," says Russ, who manages the West Coast Transmission & Technical Operations for NBCUniversal.

For Jonah, that is where the Special Olympics Southern California came in, and it has been a game-changer for the whole family.

NBCUniversal employee Russ Stacey and his son Jonah, a Special Olympics athlete himself, cheered on athletes at the recent Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.

At age 7, Jonah was among a dozen or so athletes who joined a new Special Olympics chapter opening in his hometown of Santa Clarita Valley, about 45 minutes outside Los Angeles. He participated in track and field events – and he still does today, at 32 years old. "He’s out there year-round, exercising and socializing with like-minded kids and adults," Russ says. "The coaches, all the support staff... All those people are just the best people you can imagine to be around."

That sentiment was amplified considerably in July during the Special Olympics World Summer Games – as 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches from 165 countries competed in 25 Olympic-style sports at venues throughout the Los Angeles region. "There’s a lot of people out there who have never experienced being at a Special Olympics event," Russ said. "If they just go to one, they will be transformed."

Russ is an active participant of the MyAbilities Network, an NBCUniversal employee resource group that focuses on creating a workplace environment inclusive of the skills of people with varied abilities. Russ and MyAbilities promoted opportunities for hundreds of the company’s LA-based employees to volunteer during the Games. Together with Universal Studios Hollywood, employees wrote more than 350 "welcome notes" distributed to Special Olympics athletes when they arrived in Los Angeles; created posters used at multiple events throughout the Games; cheered on athletes who ran with the Special Olympics Torch as it passed by the Universal Studios Lot; and attended the Games as "fans in the stands."

Comcast NBCUniversal was also a major sponsor of the Games, and provided air time for public service announcements on Los Angeles’ NBC4 station.

"It really fills my heart and spirit to be part of a company that feels this way about its employees and the community we touch," said Russ, who recently finished a term as Vice Chairman of the California Committee for the Employment of People With Disabilities (CCEPD) and is currently a board member of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. Looking back on how the company has evolved since he began working here at age 22 editing the Days of Our Lives soap opera and Wheel of Fortune game show, he said, "It’s important to bring awareness into the workplace and support all the people who work here, and that’s what we are doing."