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By Founder/President- Ann-Erica Whitemarsh - "...I grew to love and value their friendships, as well as what I could learn from them."

Ann-EricaThe first time I remember being around special needs children was in elementary school when I became friends with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, boy with down syndrome. I quickly realized that “hanging out” with my new friend, would bring taunting and bullying from the “normal” kids around school. Chris was in a segregated classroom with other “special needs” kids who were subjected to name-calling, bullying, and rocks being thrown at them. These kids, were the only kids I’ve been around that didn’t judge, never questioned and always trusted others. You could be yourself, and be confident whether you were wearing your brother’s hand-me-down boots or going through one of your awkward stages. These were the children we could count on for always accepting you for who you are! While the other kids made fun of these special needs kids, I grew to love and value their friendships, as well as what I could learn from them.

I never forgot Chris and in high school I continued to run into him. He could be found every day holding the door for us and greeting us with high-fives as we walked thru. When it came time for my Senior Project, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to give back to the kids that had given so much to me and taught me what it was like to be a true friend and love unconditionally as we grew up. I decided to organize my first exceptional rodeo. At 17 I had never organized anything like this, however, through the years I had accompanied my father to many community events he had organized where I picked up the tricks of the trade. Having such an amazing role model, I had the resources to reach out and continue our family’s contributions to our community. I come by the passion of helping special needs people as my father was one of the first organizers for Special Olympics in the earlier years of it being offered in the Tri-Cities.

In June of 2001, I began the project and on August 22, 2001 my dream, and the dreams of Arthur, Micah, Amber and John became reality. The first rodeo was a great success! The kids were the cutest cowboys and cowgirl who ever graced the Benton-Franklin County Fair Grounds! With both joy and pride, they competed in altered rodeo events and just as I was being interviewed by a local news station, and asked why I wanted to do the rodeo; in the background Amber caught the “calf” in the roping event. She jumped up and down and the crowd went crazy with cheers! At that point, all I had to do is point back at Amber in celebration and say a simple reply, “That! That right there was all worth it and why I wanted to produce this rodeo!”

After graduation I attended college in Portland, Oregon. Although I was busy with school, sports, and work, I never stopped thinking about wanting to work with special needs people. The experience of the rodeo was overwhelming and I felt that continuing these events would be a great service to my community and all involved.

I am blessed to be able to produce these rodeos, I am thankful for each and every person that has helped in many ways by donating financially, volunteering, or bringing a participant. I am excited to see RR grow and expand. God continues to guide me in my endeavor and my greatest desire is for this program to explode into hundreds of communities!

Be blessed, Ann-Erica Whitemarsh

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