Monday, April 16, 2012

Arc Scholarship Winners Embrace Individuality, Inclusion

Graduating high school seniors Rachelle Copeland and Steven Wyrosdick might not seem to have a lot in common.  They attend separate schools, play different sports, and participate in different extracurricular activities.

What they share is an outlook that embraces those differences, and a desire to apply their individual gifts to careers that support individuals with disabilities.  To help pay for their education, each was recently awarded a $2,000 scholarship by The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Foundation, the fundraising arm of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming.

The Arc is a 501(c)(3) private not-for-profit agency dedicated to helping individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities live independently within their communities.  For Ms. Copeland, it's a cause that is close to her heart.

"My great uncle Kenny, who had Down syndrome, lived in my house from the time I was a baby until he passed away in 2010," says Ms. Copeland, of Gainesville.  "He is the biggest reason why I am going into teaching for special needs children."

Ms. Copeland is currently ranked 14th in her class at Letchworth High School, with a cumulative grade point average above 87 percent.  Her community and extracurricular activities include Wyoming County Sheriff Explorers, track, drama club, and Model U.N.  She will study special education at Houghton College beginning this fall. 

"Rachelle always treated her great uncle with the utmost respect and concern," says Kim Bockhahn, Ms. Copeland's aunt.  "Rachel was also involved in my daughter's life, who was also a special needs individual.  She would get her uncle and my daughter to play games, play catch, involve them in whatever the family was doing, and never push them away."

Ms. Copeland considers herself fortunate to have a diverse family, and recalls taking a stand on their behalf at an early age.

"A few so-called friends would not come to my house or be around me when I was with some members of my family," Ms. Copeland admits.  "One day, I finally asked why, and they said that my family consisted of 'different kinds of people.'  I simply responded that they are no different than you or me.  We are all people.  This is the motto I live by, and I love it a little more every day."

Mr. Wyrosdick, who lives in Mount Morris and attends Mount Morris Central School, has a similar point of view, which he demonstrates by example.

"Steven decided early on last year that he did not like that a new student, who has a disability, sat alone with his one-on-one aide at a lunch table.  Steven asked the student if he could join him, his aide eventually moved to a different table, and the two students have had an incredibly close relationship that has continued through this school year," says Cindy Wolfer, a Counselor at Mount Morris.  "Steven approached that lunch table on his own last year, and hasn't looked back since."

What began as a lunchtime acquaintance has blossomed into a full-fledged friendship, Mr. Wyrosdick says.

"For my last basketball game, he made me a good luck card Mr. Wyrosdick says.  "I have it in my room,  It is such an amazing feeling to know people can make a difference if they care."

Mr. Wyrosdick is ranked 8th in his class, and his cumulative grade point average is 90 percent.  He is a member of the jazz band, and a triple-threat athlete in soccer, basketball, and baseball. He plans to study occupational therapy at Keuka College, and possibly pursue a career as an OT specialist or a music therapist for people with special needs.

"Last year, a few of us in band took our instruments down to the special education rooms and taught the kids about music and each instrument," Mr. Wyrosdick says.  "I had a great time that day!  Most of the kids had never had the opportunity to play with an instrument, and loved every minute we were there.  It is a great feeling of accomplishment to see a child so interested in what I was doing."

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