WEST MILFORD, N.J. — Kristi Clave of West Milford started volunteering as a third-grader before she took her altruism to the Special Olympics.
Clave, 33, joined West Milford Special Olympics around 10 years ago. She also teaches special education at Maple Road Elementary School.
She saw the program grow at a fast rate in her decade of service.
"We started a team nine years ago with six athletes and four volunteers," she told Daily Voice. "Now we have 62 athletes and 80 or more volunteers."
Clave credited a supportive community for the growth.
The athletes compete in different sports year round, with basketball in the fall, bowling in the winter, and track and field in the spring.
Clave said she thinks of track and field as the most exciting because it ends with a state event in Trenton.
The kids have a weekend away from home for it, which she said they look forward to all year.
"I think you se them totally light up," Clave said. "For athletes or people with disabilities, that's a really good thing. They want to be encouraged to be as independent as anyone else."
The West Milford team has members ages 8 and up and from neighboring towns as well.
Clave said she never wants to turn anyone away who wants to volunteer, because if someone did it to her it could have changed her whole life.
"This is my family at this point," she said. "I got started as a volunteer and I think it opened my eyes up to the path I wanted to take."
MORE INFO: Visit West Milford Special Olympics on Facebook.
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