The Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association outdid itself when it anted up for Special Olympics Northern California (SONC) at Bay Club Santa Clara on Aug. 15.
After raising over $40,000 last year, the third annual Texas Hold’em Tournament, organized by Frank Saunders, Johnny Fanucchi and Gina McWilliam of the Santa Clara Police Department, brought in an impressive $50,498.43 to further the mission of SONC and support Olympians as they fulfill their dreams of winning medals at the Olympic games.
Speaking this year was Olympian Stephanie Ching who has been a standout SONC athlete and ambassador for many years.
“I am honored to be here tonight,” said Ching. “I know you are all excited to start playing, but before you do, I wanted to tell you just a little about how important Special Olympics is in my life. I was born with Down syndrome. When I was young, there were not many activities for special needs kids. I did not have many friends of my own. Kids were often mean to me and called me names. But my whole life changed as soon as I joined Special Olympics. Now people call me athlete, champion and hero. I have met so many new people and made so many wonderful new friends of my own. Special Olympics has given me confidence and has shown me that I can do anything if people will only give me a chance to try.”
With an outpouring of generosity from two key sponsors – Master Precision Machining, Inc. and Bay Club Santa Clara – and support from police officers, firefighters, SONC proponents and poker lovers, the annual event has continued to grow. It’s grown so much, in fact, that each year the organizers have needed to find a larger venue to hold the tournament.
“This year, we found the perfect partner with Bay Club Santa Clara,” said McWilliam. “Their spacious facility allowed us to accept last minute players and spectators, and still have room for a DJ and dancing.”
Live and silent auctions throughout the evening helped enhance the total amount raised for SONC. From signed sports memorabilia and seats at Bay Area sports team events, to a helicopter ride-along from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department and vacation stays at various hot spots, guests were encouraged to bid high and often to raise as much as possible.
After hours of poker, the sold out playing field dwindled down to a handful of participants vying for the top prize of a $1,000 Visa gift card. This year, Raul Bermudez finished in the top spot, followed by Loan Gadd who took home a $700 Visa gift card.
“We are overwhelmed each year by the generosity of Santa Clarans … It’s because of this unparalleled bounty of giving that we are able to keep expenses to a bare minimum and almost all of the money raised on the night of the event is turned over to Special Olympics Northern California,” said McWilliam.
“I love seeing this grow and grow,” said Saunders. “We started just trying to fill it up with 80 people. We went from a cramped, union hall to an incredible venue like the Bay Club. I want to raise $100,000 in the next year or two. Seeing the athletes at the Davis summer games is above incredible. Hearing from the athletes and their parents makes you realize how very special their everyday lives are. I think everyone in this community needs to get out and volunteer time and money. Everyone has busy lives, but you need to take time for others in life.”
Money from the sports memorabilia silent auctions was added to the total, bringing the amount raised for Special Olympics to $52,500.