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February 13, 2019

IDOC employee recognized for raising awareness, funds for Special Olympics

On February 1, Chuck Mattmiller, member of AFSCME Local 203 and correctional officer at Centralia Correctional Center, was awarded the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run’s Special Olympics Flame of Hope Award.

The Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competitions for more than five million athletes, both children and adults, with intellectual disabilities. Mattmiller is part of a decades-long tradition in law enforcement of building awareness and raising funds for the organization, primarily through the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

The Torch Run has raised more than half a billion dollars for the Special Olympics since its inception. Law enforcement officers carry the games’ “Flame of Hope” into opening ceremonies at local competitions and state, national and world games.

Mattmiller said his parents “instilled volunteerism in me” and he knew he wanted to give back like they did—but he wasn’t sure how. One day he was taking his children to day care and saw a flyer posted for the Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics in which participants jump in freezing cold bodies of water in the middle of winter.

Mattmiller not only joined up, but he brought his co-workers with him, getting nearly 30 people to take the plunge and raise funds for the Torch Run.

Jumping in with two feet

Then he really got going. He got in touch with the Special Olympics and the statewide Torch Run groups and, Mattmiller said, “we jumped in with two feet. We set up facility coordinators at each facility to recruit volunteers who really wanted to help and were passionate about the cause. We found staff who had children who are athletes and they go involved too.”

Every June, law enforcement agencies across the state and the nation run Special Olympics torches through towns, counties and communities. In 2017, the Illinois Department of Corrections team ran their torch more than 200 miles from Marion to Bloomington and raised $148,000, a record for the Illinois torch run. Then in 2018 they were once again the top fundraising agency and broke their own record, raising more than $165,000.

A representative of the top fundraising agency leads the all the torches onto the field around Handcock stadium at the state games in Bloomington. Mattmiller was proud to carry the torch for Illinois. He also had the privilege of bestowing medals upon the winning athletes.

“The athletes are what keep me going,” Mattmiller enthused. “They’ve been given all kinds of adversity and I’ve never met one without a smile on their face. Even the person getting the third-place trophy, you’d swear they were getting a gold medal.”

Spirit, determination and dedication

The Flame of Hope Award is given out to an individual and agency each year, and this year Mattmiller was given the honor. The award reads, “presented for your spirit, determination and dedication to the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run. Thanks for keeping the “Flame of Hope” alive for the athletes of the Special Olympics Illinois.

“I’m not doing this for the recognition,” Mattmiller said. “It’s hard to accept the hubbub, but I decided to embrace it and use it as a larger stage to get the word out to get more volunteers.”

Mattmiller encourages AFSCME members across the state to get involved: “There are so many opportunities to get involved in the Special Olympics and Torch Run, and a lot of it takes place in the Chicago area.”

And Mattmiller will be there to cheer you on if you do join.

“I want to continue to be a part of this for many years to come. It’s a great feeling, it gives me a joy and honor to do it.”

PICTURED IN GROUP PHOTO: Chuck Mattmiller, Chadd Mathias, Nicole Watson and Marc Heinzmann presenting medals at Summer Games.