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$300,000 windfall for NZ Special Olympics team

$300,000 windfall for NZ Special Olympics team and Hohepa Trust

New Zealand’s Special Olympics team has received a quarter of a million dollars windfall just four months out from heading to Ireland for the 2003 Special Olympic Games.

The office of London-based New Zealand philanthropist Michael Watt confirmed today he had gifted $300,000 overall to the NZ Special Olympics team and the Hohepa Trust. It is the biggest single personal donation Special Olympics NZ has ever received.

The 2003 Special Olympics World Games will be the largest sporting event in the world this year. A total of 7000 athletes, 2000 coaches and 1000 delegates will travel to Ireland from 160 countries.

It is the first time a World Summer Games has been held outside the USA in the event’s 35-year history.

Last year Michael Watt personally funded a charity jazz festival for Special Olympics New Zealand in Akaroa. The event raised $30,000 through a successful collection and Watt’s generosity.

Chris Hooper, executive director of Special Olympics New Zealand, said Watt’s decision to make a personal donation to New Zealand Special Olympics was a ``fantastic shock’’.

``We are extremely grateful for the generosity shown by Michael Watt in making this donation and we look forward to meeting with him again in Dublin during the World Games,’’ Hooper said.

The money will help towards the cost of getting the team of 60 people, including coaches, supervisors and medical staff, to Dublin for the Special Olympics in June.

The experience from attending a major world games for the intellectually disabled goes far beyond the winning of medals, Hooper said.

``Many athletes return with new friendships and enhanced life skills.’’

In addition to assisting with funding the World Games effort, the donation will be used to help New Zealand send teams to other Asia Pacific and international events. It will also help deliver a strong domestic programme of sports competition for intellectually disabled New Zealand athletes.

New Zealand hopes to win 60 medals in Dublin. At the last World Summer Games in North Carolina, New Zealand returned with 68 medals, including 17 golds.

Meanwhile, Hohepa Canterbury, a trust which cares for the intellectually disabled, has received a $30,000 donation from Watt.

Hohepa Canterbury has been a service provider to the intellectually disabled since 1964.

There are three independent Hohepas in New Zealand (the others are in Auckland and Hawke’s Bay) operating under the umbrella of the Hohepa Trust Board.

Hohepa Canterbury caters to the needs of 65 residents and 44 day attendees mostly from the Canterbury area. They have workshops in Christchurch and an organic farm in the outlying suburb of Halswell.

``It is to the farm that Michael Watt has most generously donated $50,000,’’ Hohepa spokeswoman Gendy Brown said today.

``We are very excited about Michael’s donation and feel very privileged he has chosen to support our organisation. We are optimistic that Michael Watt will become the farm’s patron,’’ she said.

Watt has also donated about $2.2 million to New Zealand Cricket in recent years.

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