When I began my journey of working with the special needs students at my school and in turn creating the Special Friends Club, the last thing on my mind was community service. I knew the minute I started my first day of 6th grade that I wanted to be a special education teacher. I owe it all to my best friend Kaitlyn. She is a 14 year old with Down Syndrome and is my inspiration. I love the way she loves life and the way she motivates herself to learn. She is the reason that I started the Special Friends Club. It all began when I walked into choir and saw Kaitlyn sitting there. She looked so alone and shy. I was so confused because at that time, I didn’t know a lot about special needs children. I went home, talked to my mom and spent hours on the computer researching Down Syndrome. The next day, I went in, sat down and introduced myself to Kaitlyn. The rest of the class looked at me like I was breaking a “time-honored code of society” or something. Despite the opinion of my class, I liked Kaitlyn and knew that we would be friends. I decided to meet the rest of her friends she had told me about. At lunch, I sat with her and met the other special needs students. I was struck by how these children could have so little but love life even more than I did. I was inspired to do something. I talked to a lot of people during my year in 6th grade. It was the year of getting to know the amazing students and the extremely patient and loving teachers like Ms. Katie Morris. Over the summer, I went to New Jersey to visit my cousins. I have an autistic cousin named Liam. By far, he is the most amazingly smart person I know. He can memorize books and movies like it’s the end of the world. He is sweet and loves Thomas the Tank Engine, playing on the computer and Sponge Bob. He inspires me to make lemonade with the lemons life gave me. When I got back to school, I was ready to do something for all the kids in the world without a voice to speak up for themselves. I talked to the principal, the psychologist, the special education teachers and my friends about starting a club for the special needs students. Positive feedback came pouring in. Exited by the response and exhilarated with the idea of making a difference, the Special Friends Club was born. The Special Friends Club is not only a club for our special friends (special needs members) but also a club for 7th and 8th grade students who want to change their lives by showing the special friends the true meaning of friendship and responsibility. It provides the two groups of students an opportunity to socialize during lunch and make new life changing friends. Every Wednesday during lunch, a group of students, some that volunteer and some that have special needs, come together to eat lunch and do fun activities. We also do many great things for each other and the school community. For example, in honor of Earth Day last year, Special Friends members helped sell small paper trees and flowers during lunch to raise money. The students who bought them then decorated and hung them on the wall in the cafeteria. We will be using this money to make the community greener. In October, I organized a Special Friends Club Team for the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks event in Tempe. A great group of my brother, my mom, some Special Friends Club members and I participated in the walk. I was extremely surprised at the number of donations people made to our team; we raised over $460! I feel like the Special Friends Club has made a great difference in not only mine, but many other children’s lives. As I go on to high school, I hope to continue on my journey of working with these children. I am grateful God granted me the patience and compassion to work with the amazing miracles in this world that are often shoved aside or put down.
Special Friends Are Special People
May 1, 2011