Hawaii Police Department Sgt. Akira Edmoundson, right, pulls up a bucket full of donations while officers Jeff Hirai, left, and Joseph Stender solicit offerings from customers below at the annual Cop On Top fundraiser for Special Olympics Thursday at the Kailua-Kona Walmart. (photos by Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Hawaii Police Department Kona Patrol Officer Marlin Hopson, left, and volunteer Debbie Poblano empty their donation containers into a bucket to be hoisted to the top of a scaffold at the annual Cop On Top fundraiser for Special Olympics Thursday at the Kona Walmart. (photos by Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Debbie Poblano, right, accepts a donation from Leilani Aio and her mom, Gabrielle, at the annual Cop On Top fundraiser for Special Olympics.
There was a lot of police activity in front of the Kailua-Kona Walmart Thursday. Some law enforcement officers were staked out on a scaffold. Others approached or called out to anyone passing by. All asked for the public’s assistance.
The lively scene created more than a stir. It generated donations toward a worthy cause, as well as showed how area cops continue to go to great heights to support Special Olympics.
For 12 years, the Hawaii Police Department has participated in Cop on Top, a national fundraising event for Special Olympics, a nonprofit helping people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success, through the power of sports.
Police from the Kona District annually raise money specifically for Special Olympics West Hawaii and Cop on Top is the organization’s biggest fundraiser. Last year’s event raised roughly $22,000 for West Hawaii athletes. Officers appeared at the Kona Walmart just after sunrise Thursday and have promised to stay at the store through 6 p.m. Saturday in hopes of accomplishing this year’s goal of $25,000, said Special Olympics West Hawaii Area Director Sandie DelaCruz.
During the around-the-clock fundraiser, various Police Department members volunteer between shifts and on their days off. They spend time atop a scaffold raising awareness about Special Olympics or yelling at shoppers — mostly entertaining, coaxing and thanking them for contributions. Officers were also at street level collecting donations by the bucket load, along with Special Olympics athletes, coaches, volunteers and family members.
Stacked on a table nearby were Cop On Top shirts and hats, as well as information about the event and Special Olympics. Shirts were given away in exchange for a $20 donation to the cause.
The money raised over the three days helps Special Olympics West Hawaii provide year-round sports programs, training and competition to more than 60 athletes from Waimea to Ka‘u. It pays for the costs related to uniforms, equipment and transportation. Besides regional competitions, athletes go to three statewide competitions on Oahu, DelaCruz said. “The best part is always seeing their expressions upon receiving a medal or when they’ve beaten their personal bests,” she added.
Special Olympics West Hawaii offers powerlifting, T-ball, swimming, soccer, softball, track and field, bocce, and bowling. Participation in Special Olympics West Hawaii is free of charge, made possible through the generosity of the community and the efforts of many dedicated volunteers, DelaCruz said.
The athletes range in age from 10 to 65, and all practice together. They tend to gain key social skills and an increased self-esteem while engaging in physical activities and trying new things. They often find tremendous joy, confidence and fulfillment on the playing field and in life. They showcase the talents, triumphs and potential of people with disabilities, DelaCruz said.
DelaCruz shared the first time her son, Micah, competed in a swimming event in Kansas. She admitted to being slightly hesitant at first, but her doubts dissipated at the competition. She and her husband were touched by the hundreds of spectators who cheered for Micah and believed in him, even though they didn’t know him personally. She said the moment really showcased what anyone can do when given the chance and the many who are willing to help along the way.
With Cop On Top, DelaCruz was grateful for the constant support from the Police Department. She admired how “the hardworking police officers continue to give so unselfishly and enthusiastically year after year.” She added, they are “Guardians of the Flame,” helping prove that success in life can be sparked by success on the playing field and giving everyone an opportunity to participate in sports. She said the bond between the cops and athletes is important.
Sgt. Akira Edmoundson participated in Cop On Top for the first time Thursday. Edmoundson was volunteering on his day off because he believes the event is a great opportunity to give back to the community and help local athletes.
Growing up, Edmoundson played soccer, basketball and baseball. He knows the value of participating in sports, saying one gets a sense of achievement and learns about teamwork. He wants West Hawaii Special Olympics athletes to have the same experiences he enjoyed.