Youth Forward Scholarship Winter 2017 – Newest Buddies

Name: Christopher Hernandez
From: Vernon Hills, IL
Grade: Sophomore
School: Vernon Hills High School
Votes: 0

Hernandez 10/31/17

Special Needs Volunteering

Over the summer of my Sophomore year in highschool, I had the unique
opportunity to mentor Dylan, a child with special needs. Through a
program called TopSoccer, I had the chance to play soccer alongside
Dylan for an hour every Friday night. We would kick around the soccer
ball, run back and forth on the grass, and even make new games out of
any kind of ball we could find. For Dylan, this was an escape from
his challenging life battling Cerebral Palsy and a chance to enjoy
the night. For me, this was a new experience. I discovered my hidden
love for helping those in need. I was quick to jump on the
opportunities to help anywhere I could; whether it was at food
kitchens or retirement homes, I was truly driven to help others.
Before the start of my Junior year, I received an email from my high
school; they needed leaders to apply for the Integrated Physical
Education class, a class that allows students like me to mentor
students with special needs. The course would be the ultimate test of
my patience, as well as a way to connect to the feeling I had been
craving since I’d first met Dylan. The class was a perfect fit.
When I was accepted to the program, I was overcome with nerves and
excitement. Through one-on-one work with our “buddies”, I made
the most interesting, and entertaining group of friends I’ve ever
made; those “buddies” quickly became my best friends. I realized
that I wanted more than just community service. I wanted friendships
like the one I had made with Dylan. Whether it was the humor of Shaw,
the friendliness of Alex, or the giddiness of Hannah, I learned that
even during hard times, there is still a way to find some fun. While
helping John, who lives with Autism, through his daunting and
sometimes violent panic attacks by helping him breathe, calm down,
and actualize the situation I learned that I can stand tall in
stressful and possibly intimidating situations.

I felt like I was learning something new every day. Through helping Tommy, who has
limited muscular function, float in the swimming pool for the first
time, I learned the power of encouragement. When Hannah couldn’t
get her frisbee to fly through the air perfectly, she cried for the
whole class period. But through hard work, she ended the year
throwing the frisbee at least a few feet farther than before, and I
realized that perseverance and determination get you through your
hardest struggles. Throughout the course, I learned resilience,
leadership, compassion, and patience, adding depth to my character. I
began to take the world into my own hands and take better care of
myself. I came out of my “shell” in high school and began
exploring opportunities I never thought possible, like supporting the
Special Olympics program that allows me to work with my newfound
friends in settings outside the classroom. I truly found a new source
of fun in my high school career. Any time I had a rough day or a
tough break in life, Like when I broke my hip halfway through my
soccer season, I remained positive because all of my new friends
showed me that it was possible. At the beginning of the year, I
applied to mentor a group of my peers, but by the end of the year,
they were the ones that taught me valuable lessons I will never

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