Generation Unified: Inclusivity at its Roots
This was my high school pitch for the project I hope to continue in my new community! It showcases the amazing educational, athletic, and social opportunities students with and without intellectual disabilities had together.
A group of the elementary students participating in a Unified Club after school meeting. With help from parents and the school, we were able to run an inclusive basketball clinic/activity.
This was the pep rally held during my senior year to encourage elementary and middle school students, from a neighboring town, to "BE UNIFIED" and join the Unified Club we were starting in their schools. Unified Club is an after school social club bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities in an inclusive environment.
The 2015 Special Olympic World Games opening ceremony that fueled the inspiration behind this continued project.
Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?
Eligibility: Date of Birth
February 16, 1998
Where are you located:
Connecticut: Norwich (06360) | Massachusetts: Worcester (01610)
Website or social media url(s) (optional):
I originally started laying the ground work for this project in 03/01/2015 with a peer and an advisor. Together we did this project during my senior year of high school in 2015/2016. I plan on continuing this work in Worcester, where I currently attend college. I listed the project stage as "idea" because I don't have the same resources as I did in high school and would need to get schools within the Worcester district to believe in practicing inclusion as early as can be.
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Idea (hoping to get started in the future)
1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."
My high school has an impressive, inclusive, and compassionate aura/energy between the students with and without intellectual disabilities. I was so immersed in the inclusive atmosphere and everything "Unified", as I like to say, because it was effortless. Being a part of the team that helped spread my high school's unified culture into the surrounding community was a beautiful and humbling experience. When I graduated and started college, I was shocked and disappointed by members of my new community who used derogatory words like the R-Word as an adjective which brought me close to tears when I spoke up to them about it. The purpose of this project is to teach the younger generation respect and inclusion at a young age so they can then grow up with those ideals to create a more unified and inclusive environment.
2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
People continue to use the R-word as an adjective, insult, and a term to describe someone with intellectual disabilities without understanding how hurtful it is. As with any issue, people aren't necessarily concerned unless it directly impacts them. This attitude towards societal issues is the problem. Teaching inclusivity, compassion, and friendship at a young age allows for those children to grow up with those ideals to create a better future.
3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
GenerationU will be an after school social club in elementary schools and/or middle schools. The club will serve as a safe place for anyone and everyone to be themselves and form friendships with peers they might not see regularly. Often, students with intellectual disabilities are not involved in mainstream courses which prevents interaction between special needs and mainstream students. GenerationU aims to bridge this divide and help make friendships like no other. The club will then hold bi-weekly meetings that bring together students with and without special needs and participate in different activities. The purpose of the club is to provide (1) a space in which everyone feels accepted, (2) an opportunity to foster new relationships, and (3) the time to strengthen friendships all while having fun working together on an activity. Future activities can be brainstormed with the students but they are all collaborative and relaxed activities. I've done a basketball clinic, healthy snack party, and charity walk in the past and it wasn't obvious to the students that they were making new friendships because it was so effortless and fun. This then creates a more inclusive community.
4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.
When a person get involved in GenerationU, they immediately make a friend and become immersed in an accepting environment. It helps students with and without intellectual disabilities build friendships during a time when making friends can be difficult. It also helps mainstream students understand that the students with special needs are not that different from themselves and deserve the same friendships and opportunities as themselves. GenerationU helps instill, at a young age, the idea that it is "people first, disability second".
During one of the meetings I did in high school, we brought students from our Unified Social Club, to the elementary school to help with the activity. It gave the peers I knew a sense of agency and an opportunity to show those young students how meaningful and awesome friendships can be when we live inclusively. It helps all members feel a sense of belonging
5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
From what I've experienced and heard from peers around the country during a Special Olympics Summit, is that clubs/activities like Best Buddies and Unified Sports exist primarily in high schools and colleges. The purpose of my project is to take the ideals of those two organizations and bring it to the youth. Why should students have to wait until 9th grade to get involved in Unified Sports/Best Buddies? The answer is they shouldn't. If we teach the younger generation to be inclusive and compassionate towards others, they can then teach the next and create a snowball of inclusitivioty.
6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
Currently, the project is in the idea stage and I plan on gauging the difference I am making through maintained attendance at meetings and personal feedback. When I did this project in high school, we gave the students age appropriate pre and post "tests" on how they felt about making friends and what terms like "inclusion" and "unified" meant to them. We also asked for general feedback from the teachers who helped lead the project from their schools end. In the past, this project helped 2 schools, the only elementary and middle school in the town, and impacted the Preston, CT community.
7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
The "next level" would be working our way to each school in the community and involving more of the community. What I observed the first time doing this project is that it takes a lot of energy to bring a new idea to a school that has little Unified Culture to it. Bringing in people from Worcester who share the same passions and ideas can help bring different perspectives to make this club the most worthwhile for the students. Ideally, overtime other schools would take notice of the inclusivity in the GenerationU schools and try to implement similar initiatives in their own school. That would be the ultimate next level--schools wanting to provide other inclusive opportunities like my high school's Unified Classes for example.
8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?
The biggest support that I plan to get would be from the targeted elementary or middle school. I would need the support of at least two staff members of that school, not including the administration, to help sponsor the club and to provide a space for the club meetings. The next resource to make this into reality is the funding needed to buy materials/food for activities in the event that stores/community members do not donate to the cause. Further, the support of my partner and other team members would help this project thrive not just for the first year, but for years after.
9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.
My partner for this project is co-president of our school's Best Buddy program and shares the same drive and vision that I have. After one night studying biology, we talked about dream jobs and passions which led to teaming up on furthering this project that I did in high school. With my partner, we can try to get some of the Best Buddy pairs to help out with GenerationU meetings to show the younger generation how amazing relationships can be, whether it be between people with and without disabilities. I would like to get the local high school students involved and see if their Best Buddies program would be interested in furthering the mission.
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