|ISD - Special Needs Lunch with Santa
|Editor: John Betrus
||A MONROE CHRISTMAS STORY TO REMEMBER
This is an article inspired by two sets of special kids, brought together at the annual Lunch with Santa event at the Monroe County Intermediate School District (ISD) Special Education Center on December 16. The event is sponsored every year by The Rotary Club of Monroe. See photo journal at right. . .
|Monroe, MI -- This is an article inspired by two sets of special kids, brought together
at the annual Lunch with Santa event at the Monroe County Intermediate School District (ISD) Special Education Center on December 16. The event is sponsored every year by The Rotary Club of Monroe.
One group of kids was comprised of children at the ISD who have physical or neurological challenges. But, in addition to special needs, these children also have a special gift. Their often non-verbalized "specialness" is to impart acceptance and love. The other group of kids were teenagers in the Interact Club from St. Mary Catholic Central (SMCC) High School in Monroe. Interact is Rotary's community service organization for high school students who want to make their community, and just maybe the world, a better place. They were at the ISD to assist the special needs children with lunch and to help Santa pass out gifts.
One might think these two groups of kids would be at opposite ends of the "kid" spectrum. Like other teenagers, many of the SMCC Interact students play in high school sports, some are in band or choir, and are getting ready for or have recently finished Driver Education. In contrast, most of the ISD students will rarely play in sports, or perform in band or choir, and will probably never drive a car. Although these groups may have limited things in common at first blush, they came together on December 15.
The SMCC Interact students were originally there to help the ISD students eat their lunch, go up to see Santa, and generally be of assistance. What actually took place was somewhat more involved.
We often hear about how indifferent or self-absorbed teenagers can be. Often, those labels are well deserved. We regularly hear and often witness their insensitivity, unless, of course, some issue has to do with them personally. Another stereotype presumes that many special needs children aren't really aware of their surroundings or aren't able to make social attachments. This may be true in some instances, but it certainly was not the case on Tuesday afternoon.
What happened on Tuesday in the cafeteria of the Monroe County ISD was a real and profound human connection that encompassed insight and empathy, laughter and fun. Yes, the Interact students helped their new ISD friends eat and get gifts, but they also talked to the children, smiled and laughed with them, touched them, held them and looked into their eyes. The ISD boys and girls looked back, reached out gently to answer touches, and smiled and laughed in return, or showed flashes of animation in their eyes. There was a bonding that took place between these kids that was inspiring to watch.
Imagine a high school boy wearing a varsity jacket literally full of team and activity patches and about two dozen achievement medals. He's obviously a student leader, probably a team captain in at least one sport, and a "big man on campus." Imagine this same young man on his hands and knees helping a child unwrap his gifts and showing his new little friend how those gifts work â€" patiently and gently. It was obvious to any observer that a bridge had been built between these two sets of young people. In the end, students, parents, teachers and the sponsoring Monroe Rotarians enjoyed a day filled with love, compassion and joy. What better way to spend a holiday afternoon?
In 1960, Rotary International recognized the untapped potential of young men and women of high school age. Interact is Rotary's school / community-based youth program for teens 14 to 18. Rotary clubs around the world were charged to find ways
to encourage service among youth, foster their active interest in the community, and
offer opportunities for them to develop as leaders. Interact was the result of that
effort, and in 1962 the world's first Interact Club was formed at Melbourne High
School in Melbourne, Florida. Since then, over 250,000 youth in over 11,000 clubs in
120 countries serve their communities and the world, sponsored by local Rotary Clubs and school districts.
St. Mary's Interact is a partnership between the school
and the Monroe Rotary Club, and has been active for approximately ten years. SMCC teacher Ray Lauwers is this year's faculty advisor. A new Interact Club has also been formed this year at Monroe High School. Ms. Sue Birdwell is the founding Faculty Advisor.