Editor’s note: Monday began the first of five mini-portraits of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents who are being recognized for their extraordinary volunteer efforts in Lake County. They will be honored at the Lake County Cares I CARE Award Ceremony on April 21 at the Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest. This is the sixth year for the ICare Awards, formerly the Women of Service & Style awards. The honor coincides with National Volunteer Week, April 15-21.
- Monday’s profile: Kraig Moreland
- Tuesday's profile: Linda Benge
- Wednesday's profile: Betty Frank-Bailey
- Today's profile: David Olson
David Olson remembers what fun it was in third grade to participate in a swim class for kids with disabilities.
But he also remembers wanting to ride a bike with other children in the neighborhood and not being able to. He also recalls sitting on the sidelines in the grade school and high school gyms, waiting for class to end and wishing there were other activities.
At 4 years old, Olson, a native Midwesterner, contracted polio. The 20th century’s most feared childhood disease left him permanently unable to walk without using crutches.
“I became ill with polio a year before the Salk vaccine came out," the Lake Forest resident recalled. "It was during a time period when disabled sports programs, like those offered today through the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, were almost nonexistent."
As GLASA's board president, Olson is eager to spread the good news about the association’s 32 different sports offered in 53 locations across the greater Chicago area.
“We serve kids with physical or visual impairments as young as 3, with their parents, all the way up to age 80," Olson said. "We also work with the injured military at the Great Lakes Naval Base. A lot of the injured military were involved athletes in excellent shape before the injury. They get medical care, but there are always transitions from the hospital back to civilian lives.”
Olson knows that transition can be expensive for families. A March of Dimes Poster child in 1955, he said, “My parents always appreciated the help they received from the March of Dimes. I picked up on this and wanted to help people faced with the same issues.”
According to Cindy Housner, founder and executive director of GLASA, Olson volunteers a minimum of 40 hours a week. He keeps the website current, develops and sends out Constant Contact announcements/newsletters, leads in strategic and development planning, produces promotional videos and is constantly meeting with potential donors and supporters.
Olson, a Harvard graduate, “Reads more books on fundraising and development then anyone I know,” said Housner.
Olson admitted that volunteer work with a nonprofit is a lot different from his previous marketing and advertising work within well-funded companies.
But the connection is so much stronger.
“We get to hear firsthand from those we support about the sort of difference we make in their lives," Olson said. "Many times a parent of a child in our programs has told me, sometimes with tears in their eyes, 'I just don’t know where we would be without GLASA.' "