As part of their Senior Capstone project, two groups are closely collaborating with the special needs community to provide leadership opportunities, build relationships and raise awareness for this often overlooked population.
Students began their project by researching the issues and barriers to inclusion facing those they intended to serve. Both groups decided to partner with the school's Cuvilly special education program and Toward Independence, Inc., a local non-profit agency that serves people with developmental disabilities.
Together with their partner organizations, 11 group members are in the midst of planning and presenting several social events for the younger special needs population to interact with the older special needs population.
A group comprised of seniors Jenny Meier, Bobby Krupa, James Schwendeman, James Moorman, Michael McDonald, Mason Kooser and Joe Hoeft set their project in motion with a Valentine’s Day dance at the Toward Independence facility in Xenia. Students made boutonnieres, corsages and paper airplanes to give to clients. They also served dinner and visited with guests at the dance.
Judi MacLeod, Cuvilly department chair and mentor for the project, said the event was very successful. “It was a great opportunity for interactions on both parts. Toward Independence has dances every year, but we’re trying to build a relationship with them. Our goal is to supplement what is going on already and also get our Cuvilly students working in conjunction with their clients.”
Nancy Justice, event coordinator at Toward Independence, expressed that her organization has enjoyed working with CJ and that the process has helped all parties meet their goals.
"Doing these events is a way for our clients to socialize and meet new friends,” Justice said. “It is an excellent form of social integration, especially with the Chaminade Julienne students.”
While the group continues to fulfill these goals and brainstorm ideas for their next event, MacLeod said, a second group formed by Marissa Miller, Vaughn Martin, Doug Neff and Ben Landes is working with clients on a variety show that will take place in April. Those students are visiting with clients once a week to practice learning new songs, she said.
MacLeod said she believes that through this ongoing project, each group is getting exposure to new experiences that they would not have had the opportunity to encounter otherwise.
“Our students are learning how to work with people with special needs and getting opportunities to be in leadership positions. The Toward Independence clients are getting the opportunity to work with a group of very energetic and excited young people, and they want to see them succeed,” she said.
MacLeod said that CJ has been in contact with Toward Independence for several years about other events. She saw the Senior Capstone project as an opportunity to branch out even more in order to further spread awareness.
“Our adult special needs population is such a wonderful group of people who often don’t get noticed, or if they are noticed, it is in a negative light,” she said.“So my goal is for the students to understand that there is this group of people who have so much to give. Not only do we need to help, but we need to recognize their unique qualities as well.”