Special Olympians capture Lowcountry’s beauty through photography

Samples of Rashawn's photos. Top right: Rashawn and his friends kicking off the event

In July, Special Olympics and Recreation (SOAR) teamed up with Engel & Völkers to share the beauty of Hilton Head through the eyes of our local Special Olympians.

Five Special Olympians were partnered with five local amateur photographers who taught them how to take professional-quality photographs.  It was no surprise that these gifted athletes turned out to be gifted photographers, and many discovered a new passion.

The program started as a month-long photography contest but has created a movement where locals and Special Olympians continue to share amazing photos and stories on the We Live Here HHI Facebook page.

Rashawns2Kathy Cramer, executive director of SOAR, came up with the idea when she noticed how many people post beautiful photos of Hilton Head with spontaneous and heartfelt sentiments of how much they love to live here. Cramer said she wakes up every day thankful that she lives in such a beautiful place and works with such special people.  

She wanted to share that emotion and engage the Special Olympians who are so active in the SOAR program, so she reached out to her charity partner, real estate company Engel & Völkers.  

Engel & Völkers was honored to participate. The company developed and managed the Facebook hashtag campaign #WeLiveHereHHI, as well as the contest. The contest ran for the month of July and two winners were chosen based on the number of likes and shares their photos received.

So many amazing photos were taken that they will be converted to prints and auctioned as a fundraiser for Special Olympics. Engel & Völkers will co-host the auction and will showcase the Special Olympians' prints in their shop gallery at 800 Main St. and will share with their global network as a global Special Olympics partner. Details of the auction will be announced in early September.    

FEATURED ATHLETE

D’onte “Rashawn” Young is an exceptional 26-year-old Special Olympics athlete who was born and raised on Hilton Head Island. Along with his father, Harold, mother Mildred and brother Harold, Rashawn has family ties throughout our community.

He participates and excels in seven Special Olympics sports: bowling, tennis, equestrian, kayak, track and field, golf and basketball. He has consistently won gold medals in tennis competitions at the state and national level, and he was the only golfer to medal in last year’s national golf tournament on Hilton Head. He represented South Carolina and Team USA in 2011 in Athens, Greece, at the Special Olympics World Games.  He was named captain of the U.S. Equestrian Team, and came home with a gold medal in the equestrian relay and a bronze in the equitation competition. He became certified and serves as a volunteer Special Olympics basketball coach for our Area 8 Unified team.

On top of his sports accomplishments, Rashawn is a remarkable member of our community in other ways.  He began working at the Hampton Inn while in high school, and was hired as a full-time employee upon his graduation.  He has been employed there for nine years as a hospitality ambassador, and in 2014 he was declared the Hampton Inn employee of the year.

He currently has his driver’s permit and is practicing to get his license, and he is saving to buy a car. Currently, Rashawn rides his bike to work, sports practices and all over the island. He met his girlfriend, Tyresha, through Special Olympics and she lives in Beaufort — so a car would really help him out; he’d like to see her more often. He would love to travel to compete in another World Games, next time running for gold in the 50m or 100m track and field race.