Gr8 Acts of Kindness winner goes the distance for athletes

Abilities Unlimited surprised Mr. Sonney with a cake upon hearing of his Gr8 Acts of Kindness win. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Abilities Unlimited surprised Mr. Sonney with a cake upon hearing of his Gr8 Acts of Kindness win. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Melvin Sonney posing for pictures after his big surprise. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Melvin Sonney posing for pictures after his big surprise. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Mr. Sonney surrounded by his Abilities Unlimited team. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Mr. Sonney surrounded by his Abilities Unlimited team. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Special Olympics athletes from Area 1 gather for a photo opportunity. (Source: Special Olympics Arkansas Area 1)
Special Olympics athletes from Area 1 gather for a photo opportunity. (Source: Special Olympics Arkansas Area 1)

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Pizza is a savory reward for an outstanding performance at the Arkansas Special Olympics games in Searcy at Harding University. Melvin Sonney loves Special Olympics—so much so that he gives a pizza party for his Olympics team every year.

"What he does that is so special is that he just takes time to spend with those athletes," said Vonnie Greer, co-director for Special Olympics Area 1.

You might even say that Sonney lives for these opportunities.

"I just fell in love with it," Melvin Sonney said. "And I'm still here."

Despite the fact that it is pretty tough for him to still get around.

"He's well loved," John Gatling II said. He used to work alongside Sonney when both were employed by Abilities Unlimited.

Now Sonney just volunteers his time.

"Several years back, he retired as the bus driver. But has continued his work with Special Olympics," Gatling said.

So on this day, as his Special Olympians are savoring the taste of victory from the state games, we're going to add one more reason to celebrate.

"Are you Melvin Sonney?" I asked a gentleman seated on top of his walker. "Well, I'm Diana Davis from KAIT."

I explained to a very shocked Mr. Sonney.

"You've never been at a loss for helping our Special Olympians, for helping people with challenges. You are our next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness. None of this would be possible if you didn't believe in each and every one of them."

"When we start talking about Special Olympics, they just get so excited, from beginning to end," Melvin Sonney said.

"When you win the Gr8 Acts of Kindness, you get some money," I explained. "Four hundred, five, six, seven, eight. Four hundred eight dollars."

"All I've got to say is God is good," Mr. Sonney said. One of his athletes reached over and hugged him around the neck.

"Congratulations," Allen Williams, Community President of First Community Bank, said. "What you do is near and dear to me. I have two uncles and Special Olympics was a big part of their life. So thank you for what all you do for Special Olympics in this area."

It's to Mr. Sonney's credit that Abilities Unlimited in Paragould, an organization that works to give job skills to individuals with disabilities, competes in the state Olympic Games.

"Bowling, track and field, and basketball," Mr. Sonney speaks of the events he has helped with over the years.

Mr. Sonney retired from Yellow Freight in Memphis after 38 years. All the while, he still lived in Paragould. He went to work for Abilities Unlimited and attended a state Special Olympics one year. He was hooked.

"I had never been to one before and it was just totally completely amazing to me," Mr. Sonney said.

"He's been irreplaceable," Gatling said. "He's the one in Abilities that makes sure everyone is certified and qualified in Special Olympics."

In fact, his ability to raise money for Area 1 Special Olympics is legendary at the state level. They've been asked several times how this part of the state is able to raise so much money.

"He can take one athlete around for the Polar Plunge and raise an easy $1,000 or $2,000 with that athlete," Greer said.

Typically, it's Wesley and Junior that go with Mr. Sonney to area businesses selling ads that fill a program book.

"They are the lovingest bunch I've ever seen. The lovingest people. I just wish the whole world was like that. I mean, it would be an awesome place to live," Mr. Sonney said.

He gave his $408 dollars in winnings right back to charity. One half to Abilities Unlimited and one half to Special Olympics.

If there's someone you would like to nominate for the Gr8 Acts of Kindness, just go to www.kait8.com. Look for the Community tab. Click it and fill out the form.

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