Several years ago, our board members were made aware of a project that had been taken on by Amy Coolidge to provide homecoming mums and garters to students in centralized programs at her children's schools. If you have lived in Texas for very long, you know that this is no small feat! They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and homecoming is no exception! We are KNOWN for our elaborate creations.
Amy realized that many of our students with disabilities are not as involved in the festivities as their typical peers and found a way for them to more fully participate. Other students and campuses took it a step further and found ways to include many of those who wished to attend the game or dance by inviting them to participate in groups made up of Partners PE peer models or Best Buddies groups. A few were nominated for Homecoming Court!
Over time, we helped Amy expand the program to any campus where there was interest and where the program was not already in place. Two campuses had sports teams who were providing these for centralized program students.
With the exception of 2020-21 when Covid restrictions limited participation, we have provided mums and garters for about 25 students at 7-8 campuses. Some materials are recycled from mums and garters that students have donated, and Frisco SAGE purchases or sources donated supplies for the rest. This is a large undertaking each year, and with local news coverage by NBC-DFW and WFAA in past years, donations have come from across the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
The big question is always, "Why bother? Does this REALLY make a difference?"
Our responses is YES, but not in the ways that are most visible. Let me paint you a picture.
When parents have a child with a disability, many times they describe how their dreams were dashed and how they go through the stages of grief again and again. By the time a child enters high school, students who spend less than 50% of their time in the general population have parents who have endured adjusting their vision of many milestones, adapting their dreams to fit the reality of children whose participation is often different than they once expected. Time and time again, we have had parents reach out to say that seeing their child come home with the gift of a garter or mum was a sudden and unexpected bright spot amid a period of grieving another milestone missed. Other describe the joy through their child's eyes of being presented a mum or garter by their typical peers.
That's another part of our program: As often as possible, we prefer that the typical peers participate in the presentation of the mums and garters whether that is through Partners PE classes, Best Buddies or other organizations at their campus. We have even had students ask that we allow them to customize the mums for the students with their names or personal preferences. We know that receiving these from their peers are far more meaningful coming from their friends than from people they do not know. It also allows the typical peers the joy inclusion can bring. We relish the photos they send after the fact, when allowed. At the end of football season, we pick the glitter out of our hair and the feathers off our floors, package up the trinkets, ribbon and trim and package it up for the next year.