MATTOON -- The 2017 Special Olympics Family Festival (SOFF) drew 647 Special Olympics Athletes and their family members and more than 1,130 volunteers Sept. 23 for a day of fun, games and friendship at Lake Land College in Mattoon.

This year’s event featured a wizarding theme to celebrate the 34th annual festival sponsored by Consolidated Communications and organized for Special Olympics athletes from across central Illinois. SOFF is a one-of-a-kind event where athletes are paired with a volunteer Friend-For-A-Day who escorts them around the grounds, playing games and joining in the activities.

Angelo Rosa, 2017 SOFF chairman, said the success of SOFF is evident on the faces of the athletes and volunteers.

“There is no question SOFF is one of those days our guests eagerly anticipate each year,” Rosa said. “‘The Wizarding World of SOFF’ was warmer than usual, especially for the end of September, but our guests still had a spectacular and memorable day.”

“Elvis Himselvis” performed for the crowd and local comfort dog “Budrow” visited with athletes and volunteers. In addition, a parade including costumed characters, local sports teams, local pageant royalty and fire trucks kicked the day off just after the opening ceremony.

“It is always rewarding to see the smiles on the faces of our athletes as they enjoy the activities and play games,” Rosa added. “SOFF would not be possible without the hundreds of volunteers who spent countless hours before, during and after ensuring the event.”

The SOFF planning committee includes employees from Consolidated Communications, First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust, Sarah Bush Lincoln and West & Company. In addition, Lake Land College facilities team members are invaluable to the event that has been hosted at the college’s grounds since 1984. The majority of Friend-For-A-Day volunteers are Eastern Illinois University and Lake Land College students.

“The generosity and support for this event is truly a reflection on our community,” Rosa added. “So many donors and supporters come together to make SOFF a reality each year. It is amazing to witness and be a part of.”

Next year’s SOFF is scheduled for Sept. 15, 2018. Learn more about the event at www.consolidated.com/SOFF, check out the Special Olympics Family Festival Facebook page or watch their video.

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