Valerie Jensen was honored with the Unsung Hero Award at the Special Olympics Connecticut Hall of Fame dinner, “Celebrating 45 Years of Memories,” on Wednesday, March 20, at Plantsville’s Aqua Turf Country Club.
The event honored extraordinary athletes, volunteers, and supporters who show leadership, spirit and selflessness, inspire joy through sports, and promote respect for individuals of all abilities.
“Volunteer, supporter, leader, spirit, selflessness, inspiration, and joy are just some words that resonate with anyone who knows Valerie, especially one wonderful community of people in Ridgefield,” said Emily Pambianchi, assistant director of SPHERE.
SPHERE is a nonprofit organization that provides entertainment, education, and recreation for adults with disabilities. Ms. Jensen has been the president and directed SPHERE members in shows and films for the last decade, “but more importantly has been a friend to all of the members,” Ms. Pambianchi said. “Her interaction with the members is not just during the meetings, but is weekly. She may have a few members over for dinner, or invite a few friends from SPHERE to a baseball game. She ensures SPHERE members are smiling and enjoying their days as much as she can.”
For the past 10 years Mrs. Jensen has also been convincing family and friends it is a great idea to jump into Long Island Sound at Compo Beach during the winter.
“She not only manages to persuade them, but also engages their friends and hundreds of donors to pledge and support these participants who become ‘penguins’ for the day, all in the name of Connecticut’s Special Olympians at the annual Penguin Plunge,” Ms. Pambianchi said. “Her enthusiasm creates a team that will surpass their goal every year to ensure the Special Olympians they either know or meet that day are well funded for the year.”
Ms. Jensen explained why she has been so involved in the Penguin Plunge. “Valuable life lessons are learned by volunteering and cheering at the games,” she said. “My plunge team jumps in the ice water at Compo Beach to raise money for our local Special Olympics team.
“I don’t like cold water, but I do it once a year to remind myself that there are people with disabilities who struggle to get dressed, to walk down the street.
“When I jump in the ice water, I am in and out in 30 seconds. Some of our friends live in their own ‘ice water’ every day. Plunging every March is my way of paying tribute to their strength, and raising money for their Special Olympics teams.”
“Valerie is a true example of a selfless and humble volunteer, who works behind the scenes; whether it is for the Penguin Plunge, attending the Special Olympics games, or encouraging a member of SPHERE to grow in ways no one ever thought possible,” said Ms. Pambianchi.