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Family grateful for cherished event
Makes memories at annual Special Olympics
113012 UNITED WAY HURST 01
Jason and Casey Hurst enjoy the Ballocity attraction at the Clubhouse at Hackers with son Tucker Lanier during Special Olympics Friday. Tucker, who has Hunter syndrome, or mucopolysaccharidosis type II (MPS II), is a regular participant and the Hursts, who are professional photographers, give back by shooting pictures at events. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

United Way agencies
The 2012-13 United Way campaign is under way, and the local chapter assists 17 agencies in Bulloch County with funding. To donate or find more information about the agencies, call (912) 489-8475 or visit http://unitewaysega.org.

    Note: This story is part of a continuing series on local United Way agencies.
Even before the bowling ball rolled by 11-year old Tucker Lanier crashed into the pins, the young boy’s face lit up.
A smile flashed as the pearly targets rattled and fell — how many of them, irrelevant.
Friends and family bowling alongside Tucker joined the celebration, clapping and offering congratulations to the Special Olympics athlete.
Tucker’s parents Jason and Casey Hurst stood next to their boy, sharing in a moment they say means the world to them.
“Getting to participate and be part of the Special Olympics is a big deal for (Tucker). It is a big deal for all of us,” Jason Hurst said. “We love the Special Olympics. It is one of the highlights of the year for us.”
Though the event rolls around just a few times each year —The Clubhouse at Hackers hosted the fall games Friday — the Bulloch County Special Olympics has become one the most treasured times in the family members’ lives.
“Tucker enjoys (the Olympics) so much. He isn’t very active and doesn’t get out very much; so, to get out, kick some balls or roll a few bowling balls is especially fun. It has been a treat,” Hurst said. “Emotionally, these events become a sort of vacation. Coming to events like the Special Olympics is almost as good as the Make-A-Wish Foundation sending you to Disney World. You are immersed in a lot of people going through the same experiences, and don’t have to worry about how your child is being perceived.”
Tucker’s mother said the Olympics provides a rare venue for her son to enjoy the company of peers. It is a chance for her son, and his parents to feel at-home.
“We love it. It is one of the most important events of the year. Tucker has made almost every single one. We have a pile of ribbons at home,” she said. “We feel the most normal here.”
For the Hursts, the annual games also offer a chance to enjoy special moments of more than 150 other athletes.
Professional photographers by trade, Jason and Casey volunteer regularly for the task of capturing the Olympics from behind a lens.
They have photographed nearly a dozen of the events thus far.
“This is part of our life. We have always felt that every family with a special needs child — some children grow up to be 50 years old, others only live to 7 — deserves to have family photos, and those memories to cherish,” Jason Hurst said. “We have always done that for free for the families.”
Casey Hurst said she can relate to that sentiment more than most.
“Tucker has a terminal condition (Hunter syndrome) and we don’t know if we even have a tomorrow, so we know the importance of capturing memories,” she said. “You look around at these events and there is nothing but good moments. We just want to capture those memories to give to parents.”
The indelible moments are provided through the work of Bulloch County’s Council for Exceptional Children, which organizes the Olympics. The nonprofit organization also conducts outreach work to educate students about special needs issues, and assists families with special needs children when they need help.
“The Council for Exceptional Children’s big focus is to promote individuals with special needs and differences,” said Samantha DiGregorio, the Special Olympics coordinator and Student Special Olympic Committee adviser for the council. “We want to teach compassion, kindness and dedication — support each other and work towards one community.”
DiGregorio said the Special Olympics events are the council’s primary focus. She said the group is looking at the idea of hosting more games each year.
“Last year we had three, and we are trying to begin doing more,” she said. “The kids really get their day. There are celebrated, accepted and recognized. They get excited and really love it.”
A major source of funding for the council is provided by annual allocations of the United Way.
The United Way of Southeast Georgia is currently conducting its 2012-13 fundraising campaign, which kicked off in September. 
“Without United Way, nothing we do would be possible,” DiGregorio said. “United Way is just so supportive.”
For more information about the Council for Exceptional Children, email bullochcec@gmail.com.

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


United Way agencies
The 2012-13 United Way campaign is under way, and the local chapter assists 17 agencies in Bulloch County with funding. To donate or find more information about the agencies, call (912) 489-8475 or visit http://unitewaysega.org.

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