Each year, sophormores participate in a project that is described by some as “life changing.” This specific project is unlike any other, not a powerpoint, not a dull essay. This project gives students a rare experience to engage with someone who they may think they have nothing in common with. However, that is not the case. Rather than engaging with a high schooler from Lakewood Ranch, or a person with an incredible story, building a relationship with the students of Easter Seals gives ODA students a whole new perspective on dealing with disabilities and appreciating the gift of their company.
ODA partners with Easter Seals VIP Director, Don Herndon, who runs the VIP program, a school for kids with disabilities that focuses on teaching them real-life community skills, such as learning the filing at a medial office or packaging produce for a local organic foods company. These young adults enter the program because their local school cannot meet their educational needs.
During the project, ODA students are partnered with a student from the school. They meet four times, to learn about one another, and develop a creative “biography” of the person. On the fourth visit, students meet with their partner to either go bowling, have a scavenger hunt, or travel to a different location for a celebration of the project.
Last year, there was a lot of positive feedback about the relationships between the students.
“Mercedes was the bomb last year. She likes Justin Beiber. All we talked about was candy and Justin Beiber. Whenever you walked in, one girl would run up and hug us all,” says junior, Reanna Gregory.
This Tuesday, a new batch of sophomore students began to make their way over to Easter Seals to begin their adventure.
“It was a good experience to meet with people we usually don’t get to meet with,” says sophomore Dylan Goes.
“I am looking forward to going today. I am thrilled to meet with them and make a new friend,” says sophomore Tyler Wenger.
Not only is this experience influential for the students, but it has an impact on the teachers as well. This year, Ms. Armor, the new English teacher, looks forward to observing the students during the visits.
“I know this sounds cliche, but going in, I thought more so that we were giving a gift to them. However, being there, they were more articulate than I expected. I began to realize that they were giving a gift to us, rather than we give to them, ” says Ms. Armor.
“I love going to Easter Seals. The guy who runs it, Don Herndon, has the same philosophy about learning as I do. We both believe in learning from experiences, ” says the ODA Director of Collaborative Learning and Educational Outreach, Ms. Giraud.
Instead of going into this project with a goal to get a good grade, understand that you will come out of it with a good experience, a different view on life, and a possibly, new friend.