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Disney dream: Students donate to aid autistic classmates

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The National Honor Society at South Central presents a check of $3,000 to students with autism and disabilities to fund their trip to Disney on Jan. 19, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Monday, January 22, 2018

The harsh reality for many parents of students with disabilities is that certain things that are otherwise normal are off limits. A simple trip the movies, for example, could turn disruptive.

So imagine the thought of taking a child with severe autism nearly 650 miles south to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. For most, that is a pipe-dream but for eight families at South Central High School, the magical experience will soon be a dream come true. 

A $3,000 check presented to Keri Martin’s exceptional children’s from South Central’s National Honor Society at halftime of the girl’s basketball games on Friday was the latest in the class’s goal to reach $15,500 to fully fund the trip. With more nearly 300 members willing to donate their $10 service fund to help their fellow students, the evening marked an instrumental step forward. 

“There wasn’t even ever a question about what should we do about this,” Jennifer Boleyn, lead adviser for the school’s National Honor Society said. “As soon as my kids heard that Keri was going to send this special group of students to Disney World, they knew they had to help them.”

With $10,000 raised through local businesses and families prior to Friday, Martin needed all the help she could get in order to make sure the ambitious four-day trip could come to fruition. She did not have to look far. 

“Within a day of announcing it, Ms. Boleyn and one of her students approached me and very kindly offered to donate $3,000 from their National Honor Society,” Martin said. “We were very humbled by their willingness to do that for us.”

The cheerleading team even held a 50/50 drawing at the games and plans to donate all of the proceeds to the cause. 

The trip is slated for April 23-26 and will fully fund the expenses for eight students, one parent each, plus one chaperone to help along the way. Additionally, Martin opened the occasion up to other family members, who can tag along at their own cost. That, Martin said, is as important as any aspect of the trip.

“Their autism is severe and so some of them have behaviors that would not enable their parents to feel like they could take them on a trip like this so that impacts their siblings and their family as a whole,” she said. 

Martin said the idea was sparked by a pair of twins in her low-incidents class. They could spend all day drawing Mickey Mouse and recite a line from any Disney film, she said, and they could name the movie and year it came out.

With students as young as 14 and as old as 22, Disney is a common love for students throughout the class. 

When she relayed the good news to the class it was celebrated. She caught the moment with a video on her phone, showing the cheers, smiles and laughs. 

“Almost every day they ask when we’re going to Disney,” Martin said. “They’re over the moon about it.”

Still, the trip can not be accomplished without the help of the local community. Five Wal-Marts have offered grants totaling to $3,000 and other local businesses have pitched in as well. They have accepted personal checks and cash from families. 

But a chunk of change came in South Central’s own halls thanks to the National Honor Society. Boleyn called it a no-brainer. Every year members of the club must donate $10 to a high-need cause and this one made all the sense in the world. 

“When this opportunity came up, the officers were immediately like, ‘These are our kids. These are our fellow classmates. We need to do something for them,’” Boleyn said. “It’s a standard attitude in our building that they’re students too. They’re a member of a student body and we support each other and that includes them.”

But the trip, while rewarding, will not come without its obstacles. Many of these students have never flown before, Martin said. The whole experience could be overwhelming. 

However, Martin hopes to remedy the potential obstacles by preparing as best she can. She has relayed stories of flying and outfitted her students with virtual reality goggles that simulate being on a plane. She also hopes to take them on a field trip to the airport to get their feet wet. 

“We’re preparing them for a trip like this and it will give them the confidence and experience of flying and it will help let their parents know that this is a possibility,” Martin said. 

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.