By Joel Hall
With the help of local law-enforcement officials, the Special Olympics Georgia 'Flame of Hope' made its way through the county on Thursday morning. A day prior to the start of the 40th State Summer Games.
Police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies participated in a torch run in support of the Special Olympics, from Clayton County Police Headquarters to The Home Depot in Forest Park.
More than 75 Clayton law-enforcement personnel participated in the 8.9-mile trek with the Special Olympics flame, as it headed north on Ga. Highway 54, from the Jonesboro city limits to the Clayton-Fulton county line, near the intersection of Interstate 285.
Allison Kaczenski, director of special events for Special Olympics Georgia, said Clayton's run represented the penultimate leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which has taken the flame through 26 counties around the state.
Today, the flame will be carried from the steps of the Georgia Capitol to Emory University, where it will be used to light a cauldron signaling the start of the 40th State Summer Games.
"We started in Columbia County, in the Augusta area," Kaczenski said. "We've traveled all across the state, passing from county to county, and from law-enforcement agency, to law-enforcement agency. It's our largest fund-raising and awareness vehicle that we have, so it certainly raises a lot of revenue for our budget yearly.
"Between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. [Friday]," she said, "the flame will make it to Emory University. We'll light the cauldron during the opening ceremony at approximately 8:45 p.m."
The State Summer Games, according to Kaczenski, will take place all weekend at Emory University, with more than 2,000 athletes, with mental disabilities, competing in track and field events, aquatics, gymnastics, badminton, tennis, soccer, table tennis and volleyball.
By soliciting donations and selling Special Olympics paraphernalia, law-enforcement agencies in Georgia raised $608,000 for the Special Olympics in 2009. So far this time, they have collected $550,000, with donations still coming in, said Kaczenski. She said every $125 raised allows Special Olympics Georgia to sponsor one athlete for one of the five State Games the organization sponsors throughout the year.
On Thursday's run, Clayton County, Morrow, and Forest Park police officers blocked intersections while runners made their way north on Ga. Highway 54, between 8:30 a.m., and noon.
Clayton County Interim Police Chief Tim Robinson said the run was the fourth consecutive year, in the event's 24-year history, that Clayton agencies have participated. He said the number of runners in Clayton tripled from the previous year.
"I think this shows the spirit of cooperation between the departments and the community," Robinson said. "This is a way we can help the community. This a good way for the officers to keep their fitness ... it gives the department the opportunity to participate in something nationwide."
In the days leading up to the run, Clayton County police officers raised money for the Special Olympics by selling T-shirts and hats, and the Clayton County Sheriff's Office sponsored a "Cops on Doughnut Shops" fund-raiser with the Krispy Kreme store in Riverdale. Each effort netted around $1,000 for the Special Olympics, according to officials.
Chief Sheriff's Deputy Garland Watkins said the torch run served as an opportunity to raise money, and bring attention to a worthy cause. "We're often involved with sporting events in the community," he said. "It's not often that we get to do something like this. This is an opportunity for all police officers to set aside their daily duties to do something unique for the kids."