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2015 Brightspot Mission Year In Review: A year of giving to others

2015 unified snowboarders

From the slopes of Aspen, to the banks of the Chesapeake Bay at YMCA Camp Letts, to the greens at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and the playing fields around Los Angeles, Brightspot joined with partners from all over the country to provide unique experiences that touched the lives of so many.

Brightspot was founded with giving back to its community core to its mission. Through ongoing, concrete actions our mission aims at getting our employees off the sidelines to join hand-in-hand in bringing joy to the lives of others, while gaining a greater understanding of our community.

Throughout 2015, these efforts engaged our team in causes to support individuals with intellectual disabilities, low-income families, and wounded service members. Reflecting on the year, we take great pride in the lives we touched and look forward to 2016 with hope of making an even deeper impact in the lives of the people we meet.

Unified on Aspen Mountain

The year began with a team of 10 Brightspot employees and partners from Healthgrades pairing with gold-medal-winning Special Olympics athletes and world-class X Games snowboarders, led by Hannah Teter, in a Unified Slalom race down Aspen Mountain.

Unified Sports, which pair individuals with and without intellectual disabilities as teammates, exemplifies the values of inclusion and opportunity. For those who raced in the competition, like David Hamric, the talent of the Special Olympians left them awed. “I had a hard time keeping up with my teammate, Charles,” reflected Hamric, a software engineer at Brightspot. “Like the other Special Olympians, he was extremely fast and was halfway down the mountain, before I could even get back my snow legs. He definitely carried our team!”

Beyond engaging team members from Brightspot, the Unified race provided a unique opportunity to include one of our closest partners, Healthgrades, and expose them to the joy of Unified Sports. “Coming together in Aspen was a special opportunity for us. We saw first-hand how our continued relationship with Brightspot helps touch the lives of others. Interacting with the Special Olympics athletes throughout the weekend and seeing their enthusiasm and skill as they raced down the mountain side-by-side with Olympic medalists and X Games athletes is something I will never forget,” commented Andrea Pearson, Healthgrades’ Executive Vice President.

Racing unified down Aspen Mountain, our team experienced, first-hand, the joy that comes from providing all with a chance to join as teammates and demonstrate their remarkable talents.

Ending the R-Word

In early-March, guided by our Brightspot colleague, Rose Pleskow, a decorated Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger, Brightspot employees banded together to eliminate the derogatory use of the “r-word.”

2015 Spread the Word to End the word

Inspired by Rose’s advocacy and leadership, as well as our long-standing commitment to serving individuals with intellectual disabilities, every employee signed a pledge and wore t-shirts with stickers promoting a world of respect. This annual event is central to who we are as a company and the values of inclusion and opportunity that we believe are fundamental to the human spirit. Standing in unison with Rose and all those with intellectual disabilities, Brightspot aims to lend its voice to help change perspectives.

Sending Kids to Camp

As the school year came to a close, we turned our attention to providing a memorable summer experience for less-fortunate children in our community. For the third year, Brightspot partnered with the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington to provide low-income families the opportunity to send their children to overnight camp at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Maryland.

With the help of the YMCA, we received nearly 100 applications from families throughout the District. The applications provided insights about why children wanted to attend camp and their dreams for the future.

A committee of Brightspot employees reviewed applications and chose the 35 campers. “Reading these children’s applications was such a fun and memorable opportunity. From wanting to experience a week away from parents to meeting new people to simply being outdoors, these kids were so heartfelt in why attending camp would be a special experience. They definitely left an impact on all of us,” reflected Asha Barry, who served on the selection team.

For most of the kids, this experience was their first trip away from home, and, in many cases, their first opportunity to truly explore the outdoors. As Andrew Mason, Camp Letts’ Executive Director, explained to me during my visit, “At camp, they are able to leave the stresses of their lives behind and simply be kids.”

Camp Letts Banana Boat
Doug Sanford

Detached from cell phones, tablets, and computers, the children are challenged to do three things during their time at Camp Letts – learn a new skill, make a new friend, and take a new risk. These life lessons, which all of us can take to heart, serve them well not only during their time at camp, but also when they return home.

Whether a camper leaves with a life-changing experience or simply spends a week with a smile stretching from ear to ear, Camp Letts and the YMCA are making an impact in the lives of so many and we are proud to join them in this effort.

Building Our Own ‘Thingamajig’

This year, our relationship with the YMCA expanded to support the annual Thingamajig Invention Convention. Throughout the summer, over 4,000 kids from Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. designed and constructed a variety of inventions to compete in 13 contests including building a robot capable of completing an every day task, creating a stop motion film, and constructing a chair entirely of cardboard. While children were hard at work on their inventions, Brightspot employees rolled up their sleeves and started building as well.

YMCA Thingamajig Competition

In early June, Brightspot employees pushed away from their desks and picked up wrenches, screwdrivers, and air pumps to assemble 25 bikes that would be awarded as prizes to the top inventors. Over 30 employees teamed up to build them including Dave Townsend, a senior software engineer. “It was great to see the company come together to help an organization like the YMCA. As an avid biker, spending the morning building bikes was a joy for me,” he reflected.

thingamajig bikes

A few weeks later, all 4,000 children and their amazingly creative inventions descended on the Show Place Arena to compete in the 21st Thingamajig Invention Convention. This annual event was established to encourage kids of all ages to pair their imagination with science. With the goal of exposing and inspiring children through STEM, Thingamajig challenges creativity and problem solving skills.

Teeing Off at the Brightspot Pro-Am

For the third year, Brightspot was the lead sponsor of the Brightspot Pro-Am, part of the Quicken Loans National PGA TOUR event. Once again, we hosted a group of talented golfers from Special Olympics, The First Tee, and Feherty’s Troops First Foundation. These golfers were paired with a Brightspot partner and a PGA TOUR professional to comprise unique teams that competed at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. Coming from different walks of life and many having overcome considerable odds, these golfers inspired all of their teammates and the spectators that walked the course Monday afternoon.

Camrin Sandoz with Arjun Atwal

The round was filled with memorable moments including blistering drives and jaw-dropping putts, but a special scene on the 18th hole between Camrin Sandoz, a Special Olympics golfer from Louisiana, and Arjun Atwal, a 20-year professional golfer, defined the spirit of the event.

After sinking his final putt on the 18th hole of the Pro-Am, Camrin turned to Arjun and handed him a gift to commemorate the round—Camrin’s gold medal from the 2015 Special Olympics Louisiana State Golf Tournament.

Humbly, Arjun said that he could not accept the medal, but Camrin insisted, declaring, “Don’t worry, I’ll win another one next year!”

On Thursday morning, the Sandoz Family returned to Robert Trent Jones Golf Club to watch the first round of the Quicken Loans National. They tracked down Arjun in time to watch him birdie four of his final six holes. As Arjun walked off the course he saw Camrin along the ropes, came over with a Gatorade, and shared that Camrin’s gold medal was tucked away in his bag for good luck. Without missing a beat, Camrin responded, “Now I know why you made all those birdies!”

The golfers’ experience, however, extended far beyond a single round of golf at RTJ. On Sunday evening, the day before the Pro-Am, after everybody had arrived from around the country, we met at Nottoway Park for a welcome picnic. This relaxing dinner on a typical, steamy late-July evening, helped break the ice among teammates, providing all with an opportunity to connect off the course in advance of Monday’s round. Competitive games of touch football, cornhole, and KanJam were the highlight of the picnic. While many played in the adjacent fields, others sat around the picnic tables talking and sharing stories about the unique paths that had brought them here.

Ollie Schniederjans, David Gang, Mariano Ocano, Chad Pfeifer, and Sam Wimbrow
Denny Henry

Following Monday’s Pro-Am, the golfers were back at the tee box on Tuesday morning at Creighton Farms. 24 golfers from The First Tee and Special Olympics, played in a fun 18 hole tournament.

Off the course, the golfers were equally busy. On both Tuesday and Wednesday, the golfers made their way to DC to explore our nation’s capital. As the sun set on Tuesday, the golfers visited the inspiring sites of the Lincoln, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II memorials. They returned on Wednesday afternoon to visit the Air & Space Museum and Newseum. These educational opportunities off the course provided a unique dimension to the week, and for those making their first visit to DC, left them inspired by trips to these national landmarks.

To wrap up their week in DC, The First Tee visited Brightspot headquarters where the golfers explored different career paths including product management, visual design, and software engineering. Rob Irvine, Editorial Director at Brightspot, welcomed the young golfers and guided them through a series of conversations about our work. “The energy and curiosity from these kids was amazing. They asked so many thoughtful questions and were so interested to learn what we do. All of us loved having them in the office, teaching them about our careers, and hearing about their dreams for their future,” said Irvine.

Over the last 3 years as the title sponsor of the Brightspot Pro-Am, we have been able to provide over 100 children, wounded veterans, and Special Olympians with a unique opportunity to inspire each other, our employees, and our partners by demonstrating their perseverance and courage in overcoming incredible obstacles.

On the Field at LA2015

When the LA2015 organizing committee won the bid to host the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in 2011, they created a partnership with Brightspot to bring their experiences to life online. In the ensuing four years, we lent our design and development expertise to develop an engaging and dynamic online experience that built excitement, recruited volunteers, generated donations, and informed the public. The site, however, was just the beginning of our work.

On July 25, a team of 36 Brightspot employees and family members, partners from Imaginary Forces and Cisco, and high school students from Inglewood headed to Los Angeles to volunteer at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. From the instant the plane landed in LA, we went to work, and for the next eight whirlwind days, never stopped.

LA2015 Opening Ceremony
Special Olympics World Games 2015 Opening Ceremony at the LA Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA on Saturday evening, July 25, 2015. Ben Solomon/SOI
Ben Solomon/Ben Solomon/SOI

The team’s first task was coordinating the Parade of Athletes during the Opening Ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. As the athletes marched into the stadium, we were responsible for moving guests from the stands to the parade and back to their seats. Our team paired over 500 guests to march with athletes and coaches representing 165 countries. Entering the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to deafening cheers, the Parade of Athletes set the stage for what proved to be an inspiring, life-changing week celebrating the abilities of these courageous athletes. The spirit of the athletes entering the Coliseum awed Ashley Krauss, who was part of the Brightspot volunteer team. “I saw so many happy faces, with such incredible enthusiasm, it was contagious! Athletes from different countries were all cheering each other on and high-fiving. I have never seen such genuine camaraderie between opposing teams, proving that it's not about winning, but about playing the game together.”

Our primary focus of the week, however, was the execution of 16 Unified Sports Experiences that allowed foreign dignitaries, professional athletes, celebrities, and other honored guests to take the field and join Special Olympics athletes as teammates. With all stars and celebrities like Hannah Teter, Pete Sampras, Apolo Ohno, Maria Menounos, Michelle Kwan, Ed Harris, and George Lopez, Special Olympics athletes and fans were treated to incredible displays of skill, acceptance, and sportsmanship.

During these 16 events, over 1400 individuals participated, and the Brightspot team was at every one—organizing teams, distributing uniforms, managing the event flow, and handing out medals. For those that participated as teammates, the thousands who filled the stands to cheer, and those, like our team, that worked behind the scenes to bring them to life, the Unified Sports Experiences left a lasting impact.

Serving at the Holidays

Before heading out for the holidays, Brightspot wrapped up 2015 by dedicating an entire day in service. The morning kicked off with a canned food drive to benefit Cornerstones, Reston’s community shelter. With nearly every employee participating, Brightspot collected over 750 cans to fill the pantry at Cornerstones, providing valuable relief to low-income area families.

A Million Thanks Letters 2015

Throughout the day, employees also gathered in the lobby to write personal notes to service members currently stationed overseas. With the help of A Million Thanks, we were able to write and deliver 125 letters to service members thanking them for their incredible sacrifices.

Retired Staff Sergeant Andrew Bachelder (USMC), who was wounded while serving in Afghanistan, visited Brightspot for the day and spoke about his experience in the Marine Corps and his recovery after his injury. His moving story touched the heart of every employee.

“Taking a few minutes of our day to think about and thank our soldiers serving abroad was so rewarding,” reflected Kaitlyn Smith, a visual designer at Brightspot. “Having Andrew here allowed all of us to see, first-hand, the sacrifice that these people make and the bravery they show every day fighting for us.”

To conclude the day of service, the entire office joined together to build 50 bicycles to be distributed by the YMCA as holiday presents to low-income families. With help of two mechanics from The Bike Lane, our team flew threw the assembly and a fleet of brightly colored bikes filled the hallways.

“Nothing feels better than giving back, so I was beyond excited to help during this year’s bike build. The whole QA group really built some great sets of wheels (all Brightspot certified of course)! I’m sure the kids will have just as much fun riding them as we did making them,” remarked Faith Walker, a software quality assurance engineer.

From the food drive, to the letter writing campaign, to the bike build Brightspot brought joy over the holidays not only to those in need, but also to its employees, who reveled in giving back.

Our Mission Continues

As the calendar turns to 2016, Brightspot will continue to dedicate itself in service to its community—furthering its existing partnerships and aiming to find new ways to make an impact. Since 2008, Brightspot has always delivered to its clients, its employees, and its community.


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