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Do you get discouraged reading all the negative things about “kids today”? It can make you think that the future of our country will be in the hands of individuals who think only of themselves and their instant gratification. That belief was dispelled at Sierra Elementary School in Rocklin on Thursday, May 20, 2010.

In April, five sixth-grade girls, Kayla Daughters, Rachael Tyberg, Lindsey Immers, Alyssa Eppler and Haley Pefferman contacted A Touch of Understanding (ATOU), which provides disability-awareness programs to school students. In the girls’ words, “We want to help the regular education kids in our school understand that the special ed kids are just the same as we are”. These young ladies arranged activities to raise the necessary funds to bring the program to one fifth- grade class at their school.

That Thursday, the ATOU Team, including 9 individuals with disabilities arrived on the school campus. As the equipment trailer was emptied of wheelchairs, canes, artificial limbs, braces, and activity equipment, Susie Glover, the volunteer coordinator, met Elliott Stroope, a fourth-grade student who has muscular dystrophy and uses a motorized wheelchair. When Elliott heard about the program, he quickly agreed to join the ATOU speakers to talk with the students about his disability, his hobbies and his plans. Volunteer speakers that day included; Steven Sanchez and Jenny Zimmer who have cerebral palsy, Mike Marasso who suffered a traumatic brain injury, Mike Penketh who uses two myo-electric hands due to the loss of both hands in a racecar accident, Jill Nantze who struggles with depression and anxiety, Ruth McClure who has a rare disorder which causes the growth of numerous tumors, Michelle Sayers who is fed intravenously due to a motility disorder, Karen Parsegian who is blind from an eye injury, and Lena Contreras who is blind from birth. Sitting among the ATOU volunteers Elliott listened to their experiences and insights. Then he shared about his life, his family, his challenges, his hobbies and his plans. Along with the other volunteers, Elliott answered questions posed to him by the upper classmen.

Elliott then joined the fifth-grade students as they participated in the ATOU activities: handling braces and artificial limbs, using a wheelchair (he was the expert), doing activities to understand invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities and autism, writing in Braille and using a white cane. It was inspiring to see him guide Karen, who is blind, by having her hold the handles of his motorized wheelchair.

The next day, Elliot’s mother emailed the following message to A Touch of Understanding:

“ATOU was at Sierra Elementary yesterday and my son Elliott was able to attend and participate. He had a wonderful time, especially with Karen, and I just wanted to thank you for your efforts! He told me last night that his heart felt so much better having learned about other disabilities (than his own) and that he didn’t feel so bad about having muscular dystrophy as a result of this experience. I know you are helping and shaping the “normal” kids…but you are doing so much for those with disabilities too!” Claire

Along with participating that day, Elliott has eagerly accepted the invitation to join A Touch of Understanding’s ATOU Youth F.O.R.C.E. (Friends Offering Respect ~ Creating Empowerment). This group of children and young people, includes those with disabilities and those without, who participate in social activities, leadership training, and community service.

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