Champion for Champions founder Maria Roman was recently chosen by our social media followers as the October Healthy Living Hometown Hero.
Maria (Conny) Roman has never been someone to sit on the sidelines and wish for change. After volunteering for a number of causes over the past two decades, she knows what it takes to make things happen. Helping others is what Maria does best.
A mother of two, Maria has a 17-year-old son with Down syndrome, but she was involved as a special needs volunteer well before his birth.
In 2016, she co-founded Champions for Champions, Inc., a Marion County-based non-profit organization that offers a variety of classes and programs designed to “enrich the lives of families through facilitating and providing recreational, educational, athletic, life skills and musical activities for people with special needs” in our area.
“I wanted to do something that would make a difference. In the two years since we’ve started, we’ve accomplished a lot,” says this determined woman who’s lived in Ocala since 1997. “I wanted to fill the gaps for people who weren’t really able to do sporting events but still wanted physical activities. I also wanted to have enrichment and life skills programs that would offer personalized attention.”
Champions for Champions offers programs for people with special needs from age 2 and up. Classes and activities include dancing, swimming, music and public speaking.
Initially, Maria wanted to offer public speaking opportunities such as those found through Toastmasters. This was the first activity offered through Champions for Champions, and it’s been a huge success.
“We started meeting once a month, and it’s grown to weekly,” she says. “We now have 60-plus people registered for our Champions Gavel Club, and an average of 35 to 40 participate at each meeting. Family members often participate, too.”
On October 20, Champions for Champions will hold its second annual Universability Pageant: The Beauty Within at the Paddock Mall.
All programs offered through Champions for Champions are completely free to participants. All they have to do is register. Programs and activities are funded through donations and fund-raising efforts.
Maria serves as executive director of the organization, which is manned solely by volunteers.
“I want to give more options to our special needs community,” says Maria. “These kids have a lot of potential, but they don’t have a lot of choices. I have more ideas I want to see happen in the coming years. It’s not just me; I’m fortunate to have very good people working with me, and if we all work together, we can make this happen.”