Throughout 2017, Brightspot continued to carry out its mission to give back and serve its community through a variety of events that ultimately touched the lives of 1,420 individuals. From the mountains of Schladming, Austria, to the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, our employees traveled around the world to make a difference. Just as impactful, however, were our local efforts supporting YMCA’s Thingamajig Invention Convention and Salvation Army’s Angel Tree.
The Inclusion Revolution Goes to Austria
For the third straight World Games, a team of employees from Brightspot coordinated the Unified Sports Experiences, a series of exhibition competitions that pair Special Olympics athletes with foreign dignitaries, celebrities, professional athletes, and other honored guests as teammates. Unified Sports Experiences aim to change perceptions and create greater understanding by inspiring communities not only to play unified, but also to live unified.
Broken into two teams of six and split between Graz and Schladming, Brightspot employees organized eight Unified Sports Experiences, ranging from snowboarding and alpine skiing to speed skating and floor hockey. During the week of competition, Brightspot employees coordinated with venue and sport directors to create memorable experiences for both the athletes and the guests. Managing every last detail from uniforms to roster composition to event rules to awards, the Brightspot volunteer team played a critical role in Austria and ensured the events were executed smoothly. In some cases, Brightspot employees even filled in at the last minute to compete alongside the athletes.
"I was inspired every single moment. This event reminded me that with perseverance, we can all accomplish outstanding feats."
In between their exhausting days volunteering, Brightspot employees also found time to explore the sites around Austria. The team in Graz trekked up nearly 300 steps to the top of Schlossberg to take in a panoramic view of the city and visited the Eggenberg Palace, while the volunteers in Schladming spent their free day skiing down the Dachs tein Glacier and eating at an Arnold Schwarzenegger themed restaurant.
Providing Hope After Hurricanes Harvey and Maria
On December 17, a team of 9 employees from Brightspot and 3 mechanics from The Bike Lane in Reston, Virginia, landed in San Juan to build and distribute 50 bicycles to children in orphanages around the island that had been devastated a few months earlier by Hurricane Maria. The 2-day trip continued Brightspot's annual holiday tradition of providing bicycles to those in need. For the first time, however, Brightspot’s efforts extended outside of the DC area.
Immediately after landing in San Juan, the team began a marathon afternoon of assembling brand new Trek bicycles ranging from 12-inch tricycles for 3 year olds to 21-gear mountain bikes for young adults.
My first emotion when we arrived was sadness, but that feeling soon gave way to hope, however, as I was awed by the hearts of the caregivers who had invested and sacrificed so much of their lives in caring for the well-being of these children. It was eye-opening and tragic to see the suffering of the children, but equally as inspiring to see the goodness in those helping them.
The following morning, the group loaded the bikes onto 2 trucks and the convoy set out for what proved to be an emotional and life-changing day. With logistical help from Hall of Fame catcher and Puerto Rican native, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, the group traveled to 3 orphanages. The first stop was Hogar Primeros Pasos, an orphanage located in Vega Alta, a small town an hour outside San Juan. Primeros Pasos houses 12 children ranging from 1 to 4 years old.
Puerto Rico Bike Build
From Vega Alta, the group traveled to Bayamón to visit Hogar Forjadores de Esperanza. Here we met 12 boys ranging from 5 to 21. During a tour of the orphanage we saw the impact of the hurricane. The roof, which had been blown off during the storm, was still covered with a blue tarp. One outer wall of the orphanage was missing and another had just been re-built a few weeks prior.
Our final stop was a few miles down the road at Institucion de Niños Andres, which currently houses a group of 20 boys between 5 and 13. After a whirlwind 30 hours on the island, the team headed to the airport.
I always enjoy working with different organizations to give back to the community. 2017 was a hard year for my island, Puerto Rico, but at the same time it was awesome to see how people joined together to help. Big thanks to Brightspot for giving our future a smile. All of the children were very excited and these bikes made their Christmas amazing,
In addition to the bicycles built for those impacted by Hurricane Maria, Brightspot also showed its generosity through a matching donation campaign in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to support the Houston community. During a weeklong campaign at the end of August, employees chipped in over $3600 to a variety of charities including the Houston Food Bank, Coalition for the Homeless, and SPCA of Texas. With a 100% match from Brightspot, the generosity of our employees resulted in a $7300 donation to recovery efforts in Texas.
5 Years of Golfing Unified
Since 2013, Brightspot has used the game of golf as a catalyst to bring together three groups—individuals with intellectual disabilities, youth golfers, and wounded veterans—to highlight the ideals of inclusion and to inspire participants through the stories of each other’s determination, courage, and perseverance. With 42 participants from around the country competing in this year’s tournament, Brightspot continues to provide a unique opportunity for these golfers to compete at some of the top courses in our nation’s capital, as well as connect off the course through a variety of different learning experiences.
After meeting their teammates at a celebratory welcome picnic on Sunday evening, the golfers took to the course on Monday, June 26, to compete in the Brightspot Pro-Am at TPC Potomac in Bethesda, MD, to kick off the 2017 Quicken Loans National. These unique fivesomes—comprised of wounded veterans, Special Olympics athletes, youth golfers, and a PGA Tour professional—faced off against each other and other event sponsors in a best ball shamble.
Playing 18 holes with Curtis Luck, a professional golfer, was a bucket list item for me. Learning from Curtis and his caddie helped take my game to the next level. I also enjoyed playing in the Ryder Cup format with my teammate, Cole, from The First Tee. It was fun meeting so many new people throughout the week. Lastly, the career day at Brightspot showed me that people with disabilities can do anything they set their mind to.
The weeklong Unified Challenge is far more than just a few rounds of golf; it is also a valuable learning experience that exposes participants to both careers in the technical world and the rich American history housed in Washington, DC.
On Tuesday morning, golfers from Special Olympics and The First Tee arrived at Brightspot headquarters in Reston, VA, for an inside look at how the company works, the software it builds, and the people that bring it to life.
2017 Brightspot Unified Challenge
After a quick training, the golfers worked alongside Brightspot interns on a hands-on publishing project that allowed them to see Brightspot in action. Publishing articles, galleries, and videos about inspiring figures, the golfers learned how partners use Brightspot to tell their stories online.
Following their visit to Brightspot, the group headed to downtown DC, where they toured a variety of Smithsonian museums. After a quick pizza dinner at the base of the Washington Monument, the group met up with a tour guide, who led them on a memorable walk down the Reflecting Pool weaving from monument to monument, ending at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The golfers returned to the course on Wednesday morning to compete against each other in a Ryder Cup-style event comprised of 12 best-ball matches and 12 alternate shot matches. After jumping out to a big, 8.5 to 3.5 point lead during the best-ball matches, the red team held on to win the inaugural Brightspot Unified Cup, 14-10.
Over the past 5 years, Brightspot has created one of the most unique events on the PGA TOUR and inspired hundreds of golfers with stories of perseverance. From the fist bumps after a clutch putt to the hugs between teammates at celebration dinner at Top Golf, the Brightspot Unified Challenge continues to demonstrate the power of playing and living unified.
2017 also saw Brightspot continue its 5-year relationship with YMCA Camp Letts. As in past years, Brightspot provided 40 scholarships to low-income families to cover the cost of one- or two-week sessions of overnight summer camp.
At Camp Letts we aim to impact the lives of all our campers by providing memorable experiences that will stay with them for life and give them the freedom to be children. The 16 year old adolescent that normally takes care of her 5 younger siblings, said before she departed Camp Letts, “I love camp. I don’t want to go home, I am not ready to be the mom again.” That’s what camp does, it gives children a place and time to be free and accepted as they come, learn to embrace who they are, and to most importantly be loved.
In May, a team of Brightspot employees came together to review over 80 applications from children interested in attending Camp Letts. Reading their stories was an impactful experience for the entire committee. Most impactful, however, were the comments from parents and teachers about the unique growth opportunities, the freedom to be a kid, and the ability to escape difficult family situations for a few days that Camp Letts would provide for their children.
The summer camp partnership with the YMCA also extended to its annual Thingamajig Invention Convention. The yearly event excites and inspires children to pursue interests in STEM education. To support the event Brightspot employees built 25 brand new bicycles to be distributed to the competition winners. Additionally, 10 Brightspot employees traveled to the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, to judge the competition.
Spreading Holiday Cheer & Remembering Those Who Sacrificed
In addition to continuing many relationships, Brightspot also started new traditions last year to expand it’s reach in the community.
In November, Brightspot employees adopted 100 Angels, low-income children from the DC metro area, through Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program to brighten their holidays. Throughout the month, bicycles, scooters, dolls, and enough toys to stock FAO Schwarz filled the office. All month, the incredible generosity of Brightspot employees was on full display, with many adopting multiple angels.
The following month, a group of 12 employees volunteered at the Salvation Army warehouse, where they helped prepare the clothes and toys for distribution to the 12,400 children who were supported by the program in 2017.
During the holidays, Brightspot also participated for the first time in Wreaths Across America, which pays tribute to service members who are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Brightspot employees, spouses, and children joined thousands of volunteers who braved the December cold to lay wreaths at tombs throughout the cemetery. For some employees, whose parents and grandparents were laid to rest in Arlington, the opportunity took on special meaning.
In addition to these new opportunities, Brightspot employees also continued many annual traditions that make a difference.
To start the year, a group of four Brightspot employees traveled to Aspen, Colorado, where they partnered with Healthgrades employees to compete in the 5th Annual Hannah Teter Unified Snowboard Race. The group was split into two teams and was joined by Special Olympics athletes, who had competed the at the previous day’s X Games and professional snowboarders. The two teams raced down a dual slalom course at Aspen Mountain and used the opportunity to promote the importance of inclusion and opportunity.
On March 1, Brightspot employee and Special Olympics Ambassador, Rose Pleskow, organized an incredibly successful Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. Throughout the day, over 120 Brightspot employees donned t-shirts and stickers and pledged to end the derogatory use of the R-word. For Rose, seeing the support of her co-workers was very special.
For the third year, Brightspot welcomed a special group of golf fans to an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at The Masters in early April. During the week, three youth golfers from The First Tee, two Special Olympics golfers, and four wounded veterans traveled to Augusta to walk the most famous course in America. For Kevin Pritchard and Mason Dirlam, the Masters provided an opportunity for the teammates from the 2016 Brightspot Unified Challenge to reconnect.
Sharing Our Expertise
In addition to the special events coordinated throughout the year, Brightspot also dedicated over 3,000 hours to four in-kind projects supporting Special Olympics and Feherty’s Troops First Foundation.
For seven years, Special Olympics had produced a high-quality PDF report that users could download and print. This approach, however, had many limitations. It was slow to design and produce, which resulted in a significant lag time of its release, the bulky size of the PDF made it difficult to share and access, and it was nearly impossible to consume the report on mobile and tablet devices.
Last year, we began a conversation about updating our annual report from a simple PDF document to an online experience that would enable us to produce richer content and reach a wider audience. In less than 6 months, Brightspot made that goal a reality for our 2016 Annual Report, a critical document that highlights our past accomplishments and our vision for the future. With a flexible and easy-to-use publishing platform, our team was able to create a powerful, engaging report that helps us better tell the story of our movement.
Brightspot turned this limited PDF into an online, interactive experience to share this important and engaging report with more users. We worked with Special Olympics to design and develop a fully responsive website without sacrificing any of the valuable content. This online experience modernized Special Olympics approach to its annual report, and with a new, sleek design, the online Annual Report helps Special Olympics distinguish itself in the crowded non-profit industry.
In March, at the conclusion of the World Games in Austria, the countdown began to the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi. Similar to our partnership with Los Angeles in 2015, Brightspot is working closely with the Local Organizing Committee to build a powerful website that will celebrate the remarkable talents and achievements of the thousands of competitors and inspire a global audience with their courageous stories.
We also partnered with Special Olympics to modernize its medical clearance process to ensure the health and safety of its athletes. The existing process required countless hours of manual data entry that was both time consuming and prone to errors. In 2017, Brightspot sought to simplify this process by creating an online, user-friendly web form that integrates with Docusign to allow athletes to complete the medical form prior to visiting a doctor or attending a MedFest event, eliminating the need for manual data entry. Additionally, the online form allowed Special Olympics to provide clarifying details to help athletes and caregivers complete the form more easily and accurately.
2017 also saw the launch of our first project with Feherty’s Troops First Foundation. Brightspot worked with the veteran’s organization to reimagine its digital presence and provide a fresh-looking, fully responsive site that highlights the incredible impact the organization is having on the lives of veterans around the United States. Through programs such as Operation Proper Exit, 24/7 Battle Buddies, Warrior Call, and the Leroy Petry Village of Honor, Troops First has developed creative and life-changing initiatives to serve the brave men and women who made great sacrifices on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new site showcases this critical work.
Looking Ahead to 2018
For over a decade, Brightspot has set the standard for community engagement, by focusing on engaging its employees in efforts to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. We head into 2018 with the hope of continuing to expand our reach through additional programs that will better the futures of our local youth, people with intellectual disabilities, and wounded veterans.