Karen Roth receives the 2018 Golisano Health Leadership Award on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.

Special Olympics Michigan is honored to announce the selection of Karen Roth as the 2018 Golisano Health Leadership Award honoree.

The Golisano Health Leadership Award was established in 2016, in partnership with Special Olympics and the Golisano Foundation, and is given to an individual or organization that is dedicated to improving the health of people with intellectual disabilities and advancing the health work of Special Olympics.

Roth, who resides in East Lansing, started her volunteer experience in 2001 with the Special Smiles program at the State Summer Games for Michigan. The Special Smiles program allows athletes the opportunity to receive dental care at different locations every three months. In 2004 she, became the Clinical Director for Michigan. Under Karen's leadership, Special Smiles events are now conducted at the State Basketball Finals, State Poly Hockey Finals, State Fall Games, and the State Summer Games. This program was provided to 970 athletes in 2017.

Karen believes that athletes cannot be well with poor dental care or hygiene. She strives to provide the education that will make athletes well and fit.

"The turning point for me was having dental students come to me asking how to get involved. I used to do the outreach, but people talk and have heard that this program isn't only fun, but worthwhile. I've had dental students pull me aside to tell me that the Special Smiles program has motivated them to want to specialize on patients with special needs, and that's what it’s all about," said Roth.

Karen has sought volunteers from Alpha Omega Dental fraternity to supply custom made mouth guards for Special Olympics Michigan athletes at the State Poly Hockey Finals in Lansing. She has also set up a referral system for athletes seeking follow up care.

Karen has assisted at Special Olympics Michigan Capitol Day and has reached out to our legislatures, encouraging them to support health care and funding for our program. Karen is active in public policy within her own career. Karen has been an active participant in campaigning for funding, has spoken at the annual Breakfast of Champions in Detroit, has directly reached out to dentists to provide pro bono services for our athletes in need, and recently helped Special Olympics Michigan secure a $10,000 grant from the Michigan Dental Foundation for electric tooth brushes which were distributed to athletes at the 2018 State Summer Games in Mt. Pleasant.

Roth was awarded this honor at the 2018 Outstanding Coach and Volunteer Banquet on Wednesday, May 30 in Mt. Pleasant.

Roth is one of the select few individuals or organizations across the Special Olympics movement that will receive the Golisano Health Leadership Award in 2018. Up to seven honorees will then be selected to receive the global award to be presented at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

Since 2012, philanthropist and Paychex Chairman Tom Golisano, and the Golisano Foundation, have committed $37 million to Special Olympics health program to increase access to inclusive health, fitness and wellness programs for people with intellectual disabilities in the communities in which they live.

People with intellectual disabilities are part of one of the largest and most medically under-served disability groups in the world. Millions with intellectual disabilities lack access to quality health care and experience dramatically higher rates of preventable disease, chronic pain and suffering, and premature death in every country around the world.

Special Olympics' vision of its health program, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is to create a world where people with intellectual disabilities have the same opportunities and access to health care as people without intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics' 19 years of experience identifying and addressing the unmet health needs of people with intellectual disabilities has revealed the myriad of complex barriers to health faced by this population. Barriers to this vision include lack of access to quality health care, education, and resources.

Through this multi-layered effort, Special Olympics is working to create a tipping point where health becomes inclusive for people with intellectual disabilities globally by changing curriculum, training health care professionals and policymakers, influencing policy, advocating for inclusive health programming, building partnerships for follow up care and harnessing the power of the Special Olympics Movement to build awareness.