Santa Barbara was announced Wednesday as a host city for next year's Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles and will welcome international athletes before the games begin.
As many as 100 other Southern California cities will play host to a gathering of international team delegates and athletes next year for a three-day cultural celebration prior the opening ceremony.
The 2015 World Summer Games will host 7,000 athletes from more than 170 countries when they arrive in Los Angeles next July.
This year, both Santa Barbara and Santa Maria were named as host towns and will provide housing, food, recreation and entertainment for as many as 100 athletes and representatives.
Westmont College has volunteered to provide housing and recreational facilities for visiting athletes on behalf of Santa Barbara and hosted Wednesday's announcement.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate marginalized people with love,” Westmont President Gayle Beebe said. “I hope this city will come to be known as a place of celebration and joy.”
The host town program started in 1995 to help athletes acclimate to the culture and time difference of countries hosting the games.
Steve Vanderpool, vice president of communications with the 2015 Special Olympics Committee, said his organization is still canvassing Southern California for host towns, with more than 100 having expressed interest.
“We want our athletes to get comfortable with their new surroundings while getting a taste of the local culture and flavor of the city,” he said.
Savannah Barclay, 17, is an athlete who is one of 23 global messengers who contribute to announcements made by the Southern California Special Olympics Committee.
Barclay, who has competed in track and field, bowling and soccer in regional competitions, said host towns are good opportunities for community members to interact with people with intellectual disabilities.
“I hope people come to be with friends and gain an understanding of people with intellectual disabilities,” she said. “People underestimate us, and this helps them get to know us better.”
Jerry Siegel, who has been a volunteer with Southern California Special Olympics for seven years, said now that the announcement has been made and accommodations set, planning for travel and activities will be the next stage.
Siegel said there are no concrete decisions yet, but he wants to allow athletes to mesh with locals.
“We hope members of the community come out, celebrate with us and help us give these athletes an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” he said.