WHITMAN — Tears, joy and smiles filled the air Thursday evening at the Whitman Public Library.
Nellie Gooden, the grandmother of Whitman Special Olympics participant Andrew Parkes, spoke during a meet and greet on Dec. 8. Not only did she speak, but she was able to share hugs and laughter and shed her appreciation for grandson’s “Special Olympics family” for the first time in person.
Gooden has been Andrew’s guardian throughout his life, and the two set foot in the United States roughly 15 years back, emmigrating from Jamaica. With family in Atlanta, that is where they went.
As Gooden aged and Andrew grew, it became immensely challenging for her to meet his needs on a consistent basis, so she made the decision to place him in a group home in Brockton. Three years ago, the Whitman Special Olympics received a phone call asking if it had space for another athlete to join — that athlete was Andrew. Coach George Coffey said the program was thrilled to add Andrew on the field, but even more delighted to have him as a person. “Andrew is a gift,” Coffey said. “He is warm, loving and the politest person I have ever met.”
Andrew is now enrolled in multiple sports in the program — competing on the soccer pitch and softball diamond — while improving his skills on the hardwood in Easton.
“Andrew is a great soccer player and exceptional softball player,” Coffey said.
The one area that separates the Special Olympics from most programs is its family-first mentality and Andrew has fit right in.
“Our players accepted him as a friend and the families accepted him as a member of our families immediately,” Coffey said. “My family has had Andrew to our home for various holiday celebrations. My grandkids love Andrew.”
Since Andrew joined the Special Olympics program in Whitman, Coffey said he has always made it a point to keep Gooden up-to-date on what her grandson was doing through various phone calls and by sending newspaper clippings and pictures down to her.
“I thought it was important for her to know he has family and friends here in Massachusetts that love him,” Coffey said. “We thought it was important that she see and experience the love we all have for Andrew. When she goes home, she will be sad but she will know Andrew is with Family.”