Four years ago, a group of 35 students wrote a proposal to start a community service club at Pattonsville High School. What resulted was the creation of the New Friends Club, a student-run organization whose members are dedicated to promoting awareness about disabilities and to providing sensitivity training to their peers.
The students used the first year as an organizational period. To educate themselves, they brought in speakers who had disabilities and speakers who worked with individuals with special needs. To facilitate understanding, the group worked closely and went through awareness exercises with two parents of children with disabilities. They raised money and donated it to the Leukemia Society and the St. Louis Society for Children and Adults with Physical Disabilities. In addition, they set two goals for the group for year two: 1) to use puppets to teach third-graders about disability awareness and 2) to hold a wheelchair basketball game as an awareness builder and a fundraiser.
In the second year, the students accomplished their goals. After much training and practice, the student puppeteers visited district elementary schools to teach disability awareness. In addition to utilizing puppets, the students read books (purchased through a grant written by the club's members) about children and adults with special needs, they organized and ran sensitivity exercises and held discussions with the younger students.
New Friends also organized what would become the most popular event the club sponsors, the Wheelchair Basketball Game. Staff members from Pattonsville High School staff play a game of basketball with student-athletes in wheelchairs. This annual event raises money to benefit the junior athletic program
Twice a month, the New Friends Club meets to talk about the different types of disabilities that many individuals face every day. Throughout the year, the students sponsor special presentations on disabilities awareness and participate in various volunteer activities. Through a partnership with the St. Louis Society, club members annually assist and lead carols at a holiday party for more than 70 individuals with multiple disabilities. Through a partnership with Operation Lift-Off, a St. Louis organization that sends critically ill children on a dream vacation, club members help to run its annual dinner charity auction.
Currently, there are more than 35 active members of the New Friends Club, 20% of the group's members have physical or learning disabilities. Funding for the club's activities come from a Learn and Serve grant, a Teens Care grant and fund-raisers.