Kathy Cramer provides sports opportunities for athletes of all abilities through SOAR Special Recreation of the Lowcountry
By Hannah Massen
Many people work for nonprofits to change other people’s lives, but Kathy Cramer says that her career in special education has profoundly changed her own.
Cramer is the executive director of SOAR Special Recreation of the Lowcountry, an organization that oversees local Special Olympics programs, including equestrian, tennis, bocce, swimming, kayaking, cheerleading, basketball, track & field, pickleball and bowling. SOAR gives children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities the chance to participate in sports at all levels throughout the year, giving them the opportunity to develop physical fitness, build confidence, and discover new abilities.
“Special Olympics is essential to those in our community with intellectual disabilities,” Cramer said. “People with intellectual disabilities often are overlooked, resulting in a lack of access to opportunities and services, including education, employment, health care and other needs. I want to make sure that these individuals have the same opportunity to participate that everyone else has.”
Cramer moved to Hilton Head in 1977 and spent 33 years teaching special-education classes in the Beaufort County School District. While she was teaching, Cramer was the co-director of the Area 8 Special Olympics and made it her mission to instate the Special Olympics as an official school sport. Kathy founded SOAR in 2015, growing the organization’s roster from 140 athletes to the over 650 athletes who participate today.
Many of SOAR’s athletes have been there since the beginning. While Cramer says that these athletes (too many to count) have touched her life, she is especially proud of one 32-year-old man who has been participating in the local Special Olympics since he was 10. He has gone on to be a Special Olympics ambassador, representing the program at various events, and has competed in tennis at the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, as well as in equestrian with Heroes on Horseback at the Special Olympics World Games in Greece – his first trip on an airplane.
Although Cramer sees mostly familiar faces at each week’s sports practices, she says that no two days are the same for her. One day she’s at a bowling competition for adults with special needs and then the next day at a community resource fair with the Beaufort County Disability Coalition. That’s why she relies on SOAR’s over 300 volunteers to run its various weekly programs as well as the organization’s extensive network.
“Networking is a huge part of what I do, as we need a great deal of funds and resources to run Special Olympics programs,” she said. “We offer 10 Special Olympics sports as well as other programs for individuals with special needs, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. I spend a lot of time connecting and meeting with individuals, companies and other organizations in our community to partner with Special Olympics.”
In March 2023 Cramer was invited to speak at BNI Lowcountry Early Risers meeting, after which many of the members donated money for one of SOAR’s athletes, Charlotte Lewis, to compete at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin. She also intends to speak at the Bluffton Rotary Club later this year. Cramer has been a member of BNI Lowcountry Early Risers for the last five years.
Although Cramer says she traversed a steep learning curve transitioning from being a teacher to her role as a nonprofit director, she wouldn’t go back and do anything differently if she could.
“My favorite part of what I do is having the honor to be around the greatest group of people put on this earth,” Cramer said. “I’ve learned that successful people have to have a passion for what they are doing.”
Kathy Cramer shares three of her networking secrets.
1. Grow your network. By expanding your network, you increase your chances of finding new opportunities and spreading your message.
2. Join a service club. This will help you forge a deeper connection with your community and is great for morale.
3. Listen more than you speak. You’d be surprised at what you learn when you actively listen.