A Passion for Helping Becomes a Local Legacy
By Allie Robbins
Whether it’s reading in the classroom, hitting the whip at Friends Formal or cheering on runners at Special Olympics, I have always had a passion for students with special needs. This passion made me aware of a problem in my community. While our area does a great job of educating and serving students with special needs, there were simply not enough activities for them during the winter. As I looked more into this situation, I realized something needed to be done. Combining my love of students with my experience playing and coaching sports, I started planning a basketball team for students with special needs across the county.
At first, the task seemed daunting. How do I organize volunteers? How do I register students and make the sport fun? Fortunately, I had the support of many leaders in my community through my incredible school [River Ridge High School]. By reaching out to the leaders around me, all of the tasks grew smaller. We had one goal in mind: making a positive impact on the lives of people we care about. With the help of my administrative team, volunteers from my high school and watching lots of NBA TV with my brother, Challenger Basketball was founded.
We had practices on Saturday mornings where players had the opportunity to learn skills and play with their general education peers, all of whom volunteered weekly. The general education student volunteers were energetic and encouraging coaches, teaching new skills and building lasting relationships. Seeing students’ joy after making a basket and their parents’ peace as they had the opportunity to cheer on their player made all of the planning and early mornings beyond worth it.
When I began this project two seasons ago, I had one goal in mind: create an opportunity for students with special needs to have fun. One of the most important things I’m taking away from this experience is that one person absolutely can make a difference. If we reach out to the people around us and keep a clear focus, we can truly impact our community for good. I would encourage anyone with a project idea to start making contact with the leaders in their school and to never give up the optimism that put the idea in their heart.
Allie is passing on coordination of the program to a high school sophomore, who will lead the program after she graduates.
Youth Recognized for Determination, Giving Back
Ten-year-old Katie Bacon learned the importance of helping others at an early age. Her parents have always encouraged her and her brothers to have some sort of “give back” project at the holidays. In 2010, the children collected 38 coats by going door to door in their neighborhood.
Katie, a fourth-grader at Arnold Mill Elementary School, decided to make this her yearly give-back project and partnered with Cherokee Bank (now Hamilton State Bank) to help with collections. The project has grown since she started. She collected 53 coats in 2013, 172 in 2014 and 500 in 2015.
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques presented her with an outstanding citizenship award recently.
“It’s pretty amazing what she’s been able to do, especially for someone her age,” Henriques said. In 2014, she was given the Kohl’s Caring Kid award for her coat drive. Mom Kimberly says Katie is a determined
girl. “Her success comes from her drive to meet her goals; she just doesn’t give up. Every year she blows our mind by making a new number.”
Katie’s goal for 2016? “I’m not sure, but more than last year!”