After school club helps special needs students get to know other students at school

Club helps special needs students feel included

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. - Feeling accepted in high school is not easy. But at Cherry Creek High School there is a club for that.

It is called Open Arms. The club has been around for six years and serves as a celebration of friendship.

"It is basically to allow special needs to interact and just have fun and get to know mainstream kids around the school," said Regan Grace Smith, Open Arms Club President.

Smith and her classmates volunteer after school to run the club.

"It helps us to close the gap between special needs students and regular students," said Claire Cohen, Open Arms Club Volunteer.

The club has everyone smiling, parents beaming with pride and the special needs students feel included. But it may be the volunteers who gain the most.

"Personally this is more than a club, this is a family," said Cole Gendelman, Open Arms Club Volunteer.

"You get to build friendships.  You get to see different outlooks on life," said Nick Swann, Open Arms Club Volunteer.

"It has become such a big part of me that I can't imagine life without it now," said Kelly Christensen, Open Arms Club Volunteer.

"It has proven to me the word: Disabled to be incorrect for me because through the club I have seen how able these kids are," said Claire Cohen, Open Arms Club Volunteer.

Club member, Sally, is a perfect example.

"They are my best friends," said Sally, Open Arms Club member.

Sally is the most recent Cherry Creek High homecoming queen, but for her Open Arms is the best part of school.

"All the fun games we play and it makes me feel like a regular person," said Sally.

The club has been so successful it has inspired other school programs.

"Now, we have the unified basketball program, and we have the cheer program, the Bruin Sparkles, which has been started by some of these young people," said Nancy Eads, Integrated Learning Center Teacher.

The Open Arms Club was started to bridge a gap, and it has ended up being a life-changer.

"It has helped develop me as a person and I don't think there is any greater gift I could ask for," said Cohen.

"This club has inspired me to go into special education when I am older," said Swann.

"To see the walls being broken down between a special needs kid and a mainstream student is amazing and to see that relationship grow is the coolest part of this club," said Smith. 

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