KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Big changes are coming to Special Olympics Rhode Island this year, both on and off the field.
Dennis DeJesus and Chris Hopkins have known each other since the ’70s and for the last 13 years, they have worked together at Special Olympics RI. Now, very soon they will both be retiring but not before they help guide the organization through another summer games.
“You think of March of 2020 when this whole thing broke. We didn’t understand it, never mind an athlete with intellectual disabilities to understand it and I remember one athlete, and he just texted me and said ‘I’m scared.’ And that was tough to deal with,” DeJesus recalled.
Now this year the fear and unknown are gone and there are many reasons to smile again — for the first time since 2019, the Special Olympic Summer Games will be back at the University of Rhode Island on June 3-4.
“Summer games is their super bowl. It’s the highlights of the year for them and many of them don’t get a chance to go on vacation, so for them, to go to URI for a couple of days, that’s vacation, and that’s what drove me to postpone my retirement from December to June or July because I wanted to be there one more time and experience that with them one more time,” DeJesus said.
DeJesus is retiring after 13 years as President and CEO and his last day will be July 1. Hopkins, the longtime Vice President of Programs, will be stepping down in June after 35 years on the job.
“We have been friends for over 40 years, 50 years, I mean we go back to school and to college so when I came on board 13 years ago I wasn’t just inheriting a program director I was also inheriting a very very close friend,” DeJesus said.
DeJesus grew up in Cranston and went to high school with Hopkins’ brother, Ken. DeJesus and Hopkins then met at Rhode Island College in 1977 and will now retire together in 2022.
“I’m really going to miss the athletes, as Denny mentioned, the athletes and the coaches and the interaction as part of my job,” Hopkins said. “I get to meet the athletes every single day. The families that come up to me at events and tell me ‘thank you,’ a quick ‘thank you, Chris, for everything that you have done for my son or daughter.'”
“I’m going to miss the staff here, that’s going to be tough, leaving the staff,” Hopkins continued. “It’s hard because I have been thinking through this for the last six months and how difficult it is to leave the organization that is truly the best organization in the world. It has been my life.”
DeJesus also agreed that he will miss the athletes and interacting with them.
“You can’t have a bad day when you go to one of our events, they lift you off the ground 6-feet, they put their arms around you, and tell you how much they love you,” DeJesus explained. “People ask me all the time what are you going to do when you retire and I say I’m leaving the greatest job in the world. If I wanted to still work I would have stayed here.”
The new President and CEO at Special Olympics RI will be announced soon.