While most teenage girls are preparing to hang out with their friends on Friday nights, Danielle and Rachel Waild are preparing to touch lives. These sisters are typically teen in many ways, yet they are anything but at the same time. Come Friday, you will find them at CheerForce volunteering their time with a special needs cheer-leading squad known as The Sparklers.
The Sparklers are currently composed of individuals raging in age from 5-25. Each member is has an intellectual, developmental or physical disability which would normally hinder them from being involved in organized sports such as all-star cheer-leading. Individuals with disabilities tend to have less social involvement and extra curricular activities than their typical peers. After graduating from high school, they have even less opportunities to be involved. The squad, under head coach Hayley Brown, would not be possible without dedicated volunteers such as the Waild sisters.
These girls give more than an hour each week at the gym though. They continue to show their dedication to the team by attending fundraisers, organizing Christmas parties and banquets, and supporting team mates at other events such as the Buddy Walk. Danielle will even been accompanying one special member to the Jesus Prom next month. They have become a great source of disability awareness and are helping create acceptance amongst their peers. At times, they will have friends come and help out at practice as well.
Fourteen year old squad member Presley says, "I love Danielle and Rachel and the other coaches. It's so nice for Rachel and Danielle and the other coaches and volunteers to donate their time to the special needs cheer-leading team! It's so fun and I never thought this was possible until I came to a practice! They have inspired me to do my best, to try, even though I can't do it perfect."
Danielle is a senior at Greenwood High School in Bowling Green, Kentucky and a former CheerForce athlete. When she began assisting with squad last season, she had no experience working special needs. She did not realize then that she would receive as much from this experience as she gave, maybe even more.
Danielle stated in an interview, "I have a special connection to each one of them and cannot wait until Friday. I have learned never to judge. This kids are always judged and they are the most amazing and warm hearted people."
Danielle recently began peer tutoring in a special needs class at her high school, something she may not have considered before her involvement with a special needs cheer team . After graduation, she intends to peruse her degree and eventually own her own orthodontist business.
"Danielle and Rachel are total sweethearts. They are unique and special. I know not many teenagers think about how special they could make someone else feel about themselves . Their time spent with the team and Trevor is so much appreciated. Trevor loves them both." Sissie Brown
Rachel, a sophomore at Greenwood High School, also cheered at CheerForce and was invited to participate with The Sparklers by the gym owner. Her favorite part of helping with the squad is seeing the improvement of each member over time. She also stated, " Helping kids do something they love and not get judged makes me happy."
Rachel intends to begin peer tutoring next year. After graduation she wants to continue working with children with developmental disabilities. She stated that she would likely attend Western Kentucky University and work towards a degree in Special Education.
The parents and care givers are extremely grateful for the young people who show up each week to assist with making the squad a success. The Sparklers will be performing at the Snowball Classic to be held at Bowling Green High School on January 26, 2013.
" I would love to see more teenagers and young adults getting involved with people of all abilities. They have so much to offer and so much to gain. I always say that exposure creates acceptance. Acceptance of all people will lead to a much better world." T.A.
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