Hometown Hero: Phoenix Garner of Yukon, Oklahoma
This student has helped hundreds of Special Olympics athletes live their dreams and achieve their goals, all before she’s old enough to drive.
Like almost any kid, 12-year-old Phoenix Garner lists her top three activities as school, dancing and “chillin’.”
But the Yukon, Oklahoma, student has a passion for supporting the Special Olympics — and a goal to be an educator.
Inspired in part by her mother, Kim, who has been a special education teacher at Yukon High School for almost 20 years, Garner is determined to connect with others.
“I’m in middle school, so I see a bunch of kids who are not exactly kind,” she says.
But Garner, who has visited her mother’s classroom and attended Special Olympics events since she can remember, wanted to lift others up.
In third grade, she joined the Skyview Buddies, a program that pairs typical and special needs students in order to build life and sports skills. Now, the eighth grader is a member of Partners Club, which is dedicated to pairing students with Oklahoma Special Olympics athletes.
“Sixth grade was when I really started helping out at Special Olympics events, bringing snacks and activities to keep us all entertained,” Garner says.
Garner also helps the athletes stay on track, sometimes literally. “Depending on the kid, I’ll walk with them and make sure they’re where they’re supposed to be,” she says. “I might help get them a drink or help them do their sport.”
But she doesn’t just help at events. During any given school day, Garner might assist students with assignments, and spend time with them at lunch and during free periods planning for future activities.
And each day, she shows up with coloring books, sunscreen, and whatever else her partner for the day might need. “She just has a heart for this,” says Sharon Mitchell, special services facilitator for Yukon schools.