Special Olympics Vermont President & CEO, Lisa DeNatale has announced she will retire, effective December 1, 2017. For the past six years, DeNatale has led the state-wide non-profit organization that provides inclusive sports training and competition opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Vermont is an accredited program of Special Olympics, Inc which globally reaches 5.3 million athletes in over 170 countries. “Leading the Special Olympics movement in Vermont has been enormously gratifying,” said DeNatale. “I am reminded daily of the impact participation in our sports and health programs has on Vermonters with intellectual disabilities through displays of confidence, empowerment and acceptance. I am grateful to the volunteers and supporters who ensure the continued growth and success of the organization and look forward to continuing to cheer on our athletes as a fan in the stands.”
DeNatale’s work with Special Olympics Vermont began as a volunteer at the Penguin Plunge, the organization’s signature event and largest annual fundraiser. Soon after, she joined the Special Olympics Vermont Chittenden Program volunteering with the ski team to support her then 14-year-old son. After retiring from Ben & Jerry’s in June of 2010, Lisa joined the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Vermont and in March, 2011 was hired to lead the organization.
During her tenure, Special Olympics Vermont has grown from a five-person staff serving 950 athletes to a staff of nine full-time employees serving over 1,800 athletes and Unified partners. Programming has expanded broadly under her leadership including Healthy Athletes, which provides free screenings in several health disciplines to Vermont athletes, and Young Athletes, an inclusive developmental play program for children ages two to seven.
“Lisa’s energy, commitment, and vision have brought Special Olympics Vermont forward exponentially,” says Jim Godfrey, Chair of the Special Olympics Vermont Board of Directors. “Under her leadership, Special Olympics Vermont arrived on the national and international map and will reap the benefits of Lisa’s efforts and contributions for many years to come.”
In 2016 DeNatale spearheaded a partnership with the Vermont Principals’ Association to pilot Interscholastic Unified Basketball with fourteen Vermont high schools. The basketball league is recognized by the VPA as a sanctioned high school sport. More than 70 K-12 schools are active Unified Champion Schools, participating in Unified Sports (athletes with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same team), Youth Leadership and whole-school engagement campaigns such as Spread the Word To End the Word.
The Vermont organization has been recognized by Special Olympics Inc as a leader in program innovation. The non-profit created and launched a Farm to Athlete program to provide healthy, locally sourced foods at all Special Olympics Vermont state competitions. Eight Vermont Colleges & Universities are designated Special Olympics College Clubs. The University of Vermont and Castleton University introduced a Unified Fitness Program which partners Special Olympics Vermont athletes with University students to develop healthy habits while building friendships.
Revenues for the organization have grown over 30% under DeNatale’s leadership. Total support and revenue, as reported in the 2015 Special Olympics Vermont annual report is $1,573,543.
The efforts in Vermont have expanded awareness beyond the state borders. In December, 2016 Vermont hosted over 240 Special Olympics athletes and coaches from across the US at Killington and Castleton University for the Special Olympics USA Training Camp. The week-long training camp prepared the US team to compete in the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games held last month in Austria.
The Special Olympics Vermont Board of Directors has formed a Search Committee to recruit a President & CEO. “The Board is incredibly grateful that Lisa has committed to spending the next several months with us to ensure a positive and smooth transition,” says Godfrey. “As difficult as it will be to replace Lisa, the Board and staff will work tirelessly to secure a replacement, and are confident that we can identify a leader who will continue the momentum she has established during her very successful tenure.”
Prior to joining Special Olympics Vermont, DeNatale held a variety of leadership positions in Marketing and Brand Development at Ben & Jerry’s, NIKE, Reebok and Converse. She is married to Steve Boutcher, and is the mother to a 23-year-old son, Harrison, who has Down syndrome and 21-year-old daughter, Emma. Raised outside of Boston, DeNatale and her family moved to Burlington in June, 2000 from Portland, Oregon.
About Special Olympics Vermont: Special Olympics Vermont is part of a global movement that works year-round to foster acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities by using the power of sport to showcase their gifts and abilities.