LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — This year the Special Olympics New Jersey Summer Games had the help of 27 Pinelands Regional High School students who joined 3,000 other volunteers.

Pinelands Regional students have previously volunteered at the county level for the Special Olympics, but when the event was moved too far away several years ago, they were no longer able to volunteer.

But for this year’s event, students in the Interact Club — whose motto is “Go Big or Go Home” — insisted on volunteering, and with the help of teacher and Interact Club adviser Erin McGuire, their push to help came to fruition.

With the help of the Great Bay Rotary Club partnered with Durham School Services, which provides transportation services for the Pinelands Regional School District, the student volunteers had a ride north.

“We like to try and support the students in our community who are doing good things. It’s for a good cause and we’re all part of the same community,” said Patty Manzoni, general manager at Durham School Services.

Durham provided round-trip transportation to the games in Ewing Township earlier this month.

“We collaborate with each other. We’re both philanthropic clubs who get together to give back. The students come in and volunteer their time to help us with our events, and in turn we’ll pay for students to attend things like the Special Olympics,” said Carol Turano, president of the Great Bay Rotary Club and director of the Schools Based Youth Services Program at Pinelands.

On June 8, the student volunteers departed Pinelands Regional at 5:30 a.m. for the games and returned 12 hours later after assisting 2,500 athletes in seven sporting events, from track and field to tennis. The majority of student volunteers worked one-on-one with athletes, assisting them to be sure they had everything needed to compete in the games. During the actual competition, the students cheered from the sidelines.

“It was amazing to watch the athletes compete. They were so proud of themselves, and we were so proud of them. By the end of the day we all felt so close we could cry. It was an amazing place to be,” said Pinelands Regional junior Amanda Abbott.

“To watch all these kids come out and participate was a big deal. It was very moving,” said junior Cody Bonicky.

The Summer Games, one of four major annual competitions in New Jersey, took place at The College of New Jersey from June 7 to 9.

Next year, the national Special Olympics will be held in New Jersey. Students from Pinelands Regional are already planning to volunteer again.

“I wish I could spend all my Saturdays volunteering. It was a fun experience to see the Special Olympics and the collaboration that everyone puts into it,” said sophomore Sam Daddona.

Contact Donna Weaver:

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Been working with the Press for about 27 years.