The 2019 Volunteer of the Year Awards celebrated the incredible impact ESPN has had on communities globally over the past year. The event highlighted some amazing programs and more importantly, key volunteers who went above and beyond in serving others. Hosted by SportsCenter anchor Nichole Briscoe, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro - a Points of Light Family Volunteer and the 2013 Disney LA Executive of the Year - and several senior leaders recognized the efforts of those employees and teams who dedicated their time and skills to make a difference in peoples' lives.
This year's awards focused on employees who are self-directed in their service and who are committed to supporting their cause and community all throughout the year. ESPN correspondent Michele Steele was named Commentator of the Year for her immeasurable impact on Special Olympics.
An advocate for inclusion, Steele, is incredibly active with Special Olympics in Chicago, where ESPN and UNICEF piloted a unified program in the city's elementary schools. She assisted with the Special Olympics UNICEF KID Powerbands program, which encouraged athletes and their partners to wear fitness bands that tracked their activity. Upon completion of their activity and unlocking nutrition packets for underserved children around the world, which saved the lives of more than 20 children, Steele participated in the school's pep rally to celebrate the athletes' accomplishments.
"For me, volunteering with Special Olympics and Unified Sports, in particular, has given me such a tangible definition of what inclusion is. We all know what diversity means, but inclusion is, 'Do you belong?' The answer in Special Olympics' case is yes, and the answer at ESPN is, yes. If you love sports, you're included. By volunteering with Special Olympics, I've realized such a meaningful definition of the word inclusion. I've gotten to know people who I would otherwise not know, whether it's at Special Olympics or on our company's Corporate Citizenship team. And it's a lot of fun to do."
When she's not hosting Special Olympics' pep rallies, Steele is working with Unified Sports, which puts athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. Her passions for inclusion and diversity have also led her to be an active member and emcee for the Asian American Journalists Association - she's also a volunteer with the Michael J. Fox Foundation in Chicago.
"Volunteering is a way for me to have a concrete impact on the things that I care the most about. My dad, who had Parkinson's disease for 24 years, taught me to live a life of service despite his challenges, and I'm so fortunate to be at a company that understands how important it is to serve the community and pursue a level playing field for all."