For nearly 45 years Special Olympics Kentucky (SOKY) has provided important, life-changing opportunities for children and adults in Kentucky with intellectual disabilities. What started as a sports program has developed into a comprehensive organization that also provides health screenings, early childhood programs and school-based programs that help end bullying by building bridges and fostering understanding between students with intellectual disabilities and classmates without disabilities.
Because we don’t receive any government funding, SOKY must find other ways to fund these programs. For the last year and a half, our clothing recycling program in partnership with Ohio Mills Corp has been a vital funding source. Last year our clothes recycling program provided more than $88,500 for SOKY. Since its inception, the program has produced more than $150,000 during difficult economic times for nonprofits.
Louisville Metro Government passed an ordinance in December that would have effectively ended our recycling program in Louisville. The ordinance would have instituted licensing fees adding more than $27,000 a year in costs to this program and required inaccurate wording on our bins, discouraging donations. SOKY and Ohio Mills Corp. had no choice but to file suit against Metro Government challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, which discriminates against SOKY and other nonprofits that outsource clothing collection.
SOKY began in Louisville as a city program before expanding throughout Kentucky. Louisville is home to a large number of our Special Olympics athletes and hosts two of our largest competitions – the state basketball and bowling tournaments. SOKY has always been part of the fabric of the Louisville community and will always remain an integral part of it. We felt we owed it to our athletes, coaches, families and volunteers to protect our organization’s rights to ensure that we are able to continue the bin program that provides vital funding for our programs.
In addition, we believe the bins provide a valuable community service by promoting recycling and keeping clothing and household goods out of landfills. Twenty billion pounds of clothing are dumped each year. Only 15 percent is recycled. There is no shortage of potential donated materials to assist other nonprofits. Ohio Mills has two trucks and eight employees in Jefferson County dedicated to collection and maintenance of our 90 bins in the Louisville area.
SOKY is not opposed to regulation of recycling collection bins in Metro Louisville. In fact, we offered a compromise that would have treated all nonprofits the same. Because of our lawsuit, the ordinance will not go into effect as originally planned on Feb. 22. We look forward to a resolution that will allow us to continue this program that provides so many services for our athletes. We are grateful for all the support we have received from the Louisville community, including our business partners that allow us to place bins on their property and those who have made donations in our collection bins. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of those with intellectual disabilities in Kentucky.
Trish Mazzoni is the President and CEO of Special Olympics Kentucky.