Game Changer: Volunteer Andy Heller
By Jennifer Dowdy
Andy Heller is a familiar face in Special Olympics Massachusetts. He volunteers in many roles, including coach, photographer, and team chaperone and was just honored as the 2017 Bristol County Volunteer of the Year!
“It’s hard to believe I’ve been involved with Special Olympics for 15 years now,” says Andy. “It all started in 2003 when my wife Caron, a special educator for Attleboro Schools, brought 7 athletes to a track and field competition at the Attleboro School Day Games. I came to those games and took some photographs of her athletes in action. My involvement at that time was more out of curiosity. What was Special Olympics all about?”
Caron and Andy started the Heller’s Angels local program in 2003 and those 7 athletes have grown to include more than 100 athletes and Unified partners training and competing in 9 sports across 4 seasons a year. In 2010 the Heller family was inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame.
“I’ve had the chance to watch some of our 11 and 12 year old athletes grow and continue to compete with us as adults,” Andy shares. “Many friendships have been forged over the years and it was Special Olympics that gave these athletes the chance to compete in the athletic arena. For some it’s an opportunity to compete and socialize out of school and it’s extremely satisfying to capture the fun and excitement of competition with my camera.”
“As the team grew, so did my involvement,” Andy continues. “Over the years I’ve served in various capacities, having coached (or more often assistant coached) basketball, flag football and bowling. But I never go to an event without my camera to capture the sports action. As a matter of fact, it has become EXPECTED that I bring my photo gear and the athletes have come to know me as ‘that photographer guy’.”
In addition to running his own business, Heller Photography, Andy donates his time and expertise to photograph the Heller’s Angels teams and numerous Special Olympics events throughout the year and throughout the state. He has spent thousands of hours snapping and editing photos for local, regional and state events including the Attleboro School Day Games, Law Enforcement Torch Run events, Bio Ball, the Soccer State Cup, the Flag Football and Cheerleading State Tournament, and the list goes on! “It’s great photographing the athletes at many events during the year,” Andy says. “I know that my volunteer photo work is highly regarded by Special Olympics and my images are shared [online] and have been put to use in promotional materials many times.”
“Of all the things I’ve done over the years the most consistent thing is being the ‘ABC’ – the Assistant Bowling Coach, as the athletes call me. During the season, my wife and I pick up some of the athletes and bring them to the bowling alley for practice. I do my best to get them pumped up for practice, joking around with them and shouting ‘coach-speak’ to them on the ride. I tell them that ‘gutter balls are unacceptable!’ and that they should ‘only roll strikes and spares!’ They know I’m just joking around with them and we all have a great time together. After practice they even put up with my strange musical taste and we sing songs together while watching music videos on my cell phone. I continue to volunteer because there’s no way I’d want to miss this kind of fun!”
Andy Heller embodies building an Inclusive Community in Bristol County for Special Olympics, supporting and building opportunities for athletes and the Heller’s Angels local program and making a positive impact for schools, tournaments, the law enforcement torch run, and fundraising efforts. With every volunteer role, Andy leads by example with his dedication, kindness, patience, a sense of ease, and continuously raising the bar for athletes’ abilities.
Please join us in thanking and congratulating Andy Heller, 2017 Bristol County Volunteer of the Year!