Avon police Lt. Kelly Walsh, of Avon, is one of this year's recipients of Special Olympics Connecticut's Unsung Hero Award.
She will receive the award at the Aquaturf in Southington during a 2013 Hall of Fame Dinner on March 20.
“I’m extremely honored," said Walsh, who was first hired as an Avon patrol officer in 2003 after graduating from the University of New Haven with a degree in criminal justice and investigative service. “I’ve been involved with Special Olympics before I even got hired.”
Volunteering for the Special Olympics cause means a lot to Walsh.
“I think it’s a matter of I see how it’s important to them and, to be honest, it’s fun," Walsh said. "We all have fun."
Walsh has gotten to know the local athletes well, including Avon resident Dan Widing, who is Police Chaplain Jon Widing's son.
“Dan’s my best friend," she said. "He’s the man.”
In 2004, Walsh began inquiring about what the Avon Police Department did to raise money for Special Olympics.
“We participated in the torch run but we weren’t doing any fundraising per se," Walsh said, but she added that the Avon Police Association would send donations.
In 2005, she asked to be the town captain. She became the leg coordinator for the fifth section of the Law Enforcement Torch Run that starts in Watertown and travels through Avon on Route 44.
Now she is the regional coordinator for police departments in the Northwestern region for the torch run and fundraising efforts.
Walsh also gives medals out at Special Olympics awards ceremonies. One of the "cutest" moments she witnessed during her years of volunteering happened at last year's award ceremony at Southern Connecticut State University. A Special Olympian specifically requested that Avon Police Officer Courtney Wilson give him his ribbon.
"He gave her a big hug," Walsh said.
Now the Avon Police Department has a committee to organize its fundraising efforts.
Avon police officers have raised money for Special Olympics through Tip-A-Cop, wrapping presents for customers at Barnes & Nobles in Canton, jumping into cold water at Winding Trails in Farmington for the annual Penguin Plunge, and sitting atop a fire truck ladder as people donated money for the Cop on Top fundraiser.
The department also used to invite businesses to donate money to Special Olympics and adopt a portion of Route 44. Officers are also involved in the Dream Ride motorcycle parade and Dream Cruise antique cars tour from New Britain to Farmington that raise money for the cause.
Walsh was inspired to become involved in Special Olympics after often visiting her sister, Kerry Cayward, of South Windsor, at work at a Hartford group home for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Residential Management Services of Hartford facilitated the home's operation at the time. Before Cayward's time there, Dustin Hoffman observed one of the autistic residents at that house to prepare for his role as Raymond Babbitt in the movie, Rain Man, Walsh said.
In high school, Walsh, a Wethersfield High School Class of 1999 graduate, would help special needs students with their homework during free periods.
She also volunteered for the Special Olympics cause as a police explorer with Wethersfield Police Department from age 13 to 22. Walsh participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run that kicks off the summer Special Olympics, as well as Tip-A-Cop events.
For Walsh, the Unsung Hero Award is not the only reward for her many years of behind-the-scenes volunteer work for Special Olympics.
“I’m beyond honored, but to me it’s just part of my life.”