Grace Hendrickson - Oklahoma Interview by Larissa Chelius Nomination & Photography by Traci Hendrickson Issue 25 of Inspiring Teens Magazine
The Nomination: Two years ago, as Grace Hendrickson was starting 6th grade, she was given the student mentor class as an elective. Being a student mentor involved helping and guiding the special needs students at the school. Grace fell in LOVE with the kids. They became her friends and even-though she is the mentor, I believe they have made an even greater impact in her life. She loves spending her day with the students and helping them with schoolwork and day to day activities. During her 7th grade year, she continued as a mentor and formed even closer bonds with the kids. Grace chose to eat lunch everyday with one of her best friends, Shawn, who she has now mentored for 2 years. They bring a joy to her life like I've never seen before. She attended special Olympics with them and had a wonderful time. She has now started volunteering at our church with the special needs class as well. Grace inspires me and those around her. I have even seen her younger siblings take an interest in the special needs kids because of her example. She will continue mentoring in 8th grade and has decided she would like to pursue a future working with them through teaching or occupational therapy. She truly has a gift and I've loved watching her use it. Thank you for the opportunity to recognize how amazing Grace is!
What did you love about being a mentor for the special needs students? I love mentoring special needs kids because I love helping them work through their everyday challenges that they face. Their courage inspires me to confront my own fears and challenges. I have so much fun hanging out with them. These kids are always there for me and don’t care what you look like or what you wear. They love you for who you are.
How did mentoring these students impact your life for the better? Mentoring the special needs students has definitely made a huge impact on my life. They have taught me so many life lessons and have showed me what a good friend is. These kids have led me closer to God by showing me his love. By nature, I am a very cautious person. However, as a mentor, these kids need me to be a leader and push them beyond their comfort zones. In order to do that, I have learned to push myself out of my own comfort zone.
Tell me a little bit about the Special Olympics, and what it meant to you and the kids you mentor. Special Olympics is where people with special needs from all around Oklahoma come together to compete in different sports. I was able to compete with the kids I mentor in basketball and bocce ball. My partner, Diego, and I earned the gold medal in bocce ball. Winning or losing didn’t matter to the kids. Either way they were the happiest kids in the world and seeing them so happy put a huge smile on my face.
Going to the Special Olympics was a life changing experience for me that I will never forget. As a mentor, I had to opportunity to stay in a dorm with a student who has down syndrome, named Kayley. She has such a fun personality and is always a great friend to me. Kayley and I have hung out outside of school several times and our friendship continues to grow stronger.
As a mentor, what have the kids taught you over the years? Over the past few years, special needs kids have been amazing friends to me and have taught me to be a better friend. They have taught me to be myself and not worry about what others think of me. These students have shown me to see people for who they are on the inside and not by the way they look.
Image by Grace
Do you plan to continue to work with special needs kids as you get older? I plan to continue being a student mentor in the Owasso school system. As I get older, there will be opportunities to volunteer that involve working with special needs students outside of school. My dream is to have a career working with children who have disabilities. I plan to become a special education teacher or an occupational therapist. I know that working with special needs students is my passion.
Grace will be featured in Issue 25 of Inspiring Teens Magazine!
Interviewed by Shaina Zaccagnino Nomination by Tara Burnett Photography by Simplicity Photography Art by Kristen Lyn Oklahoma
The Nomination: Abbey Burnett- Abbey is my oldest daughter and this is her senior year of High School. Abbey mentored in a program at our local Elementary Schools, Highland Park, every Monday morning, this past year for a third grade at risk student. She served as a role model and encouraged the female student to "Dream Big" and follow her dreams of being an attorney someday. Towards the end of the school year, Abbey's mentee moved to live back with her real mom. Abbey continues to keep in touch with her mentee through social media.....she will take on a new at risk student this year to continue to inspire at risk girls to "Dream Big" and "self-love" in a vulnerable world.
How did you become interested in mentoring at risk students and how did you start? My Mother is an Elementary Principal and works at a High Poverty school in my hometown. She started the mentoring program to "Break the cycle" for these students many years ago. I always heard her come home and talk about how inspirational and meaningful the program was to her and to her students. Last year, I came up with the idea of mentoring and to be involved during my late start Monday mornings. I also recruited several of my classmates and High School friends to mentor as well and help make the difference in a young student's life.
Why do you think helping at risk students is important? Education is the key to living your life to the fullest and following your dreams. Many at risk students do not have that role model at home telling them that they can do this if they continue their education and do well in school. Like my Mom stated at home, it’s important to "Break the cycle" and show at risk students that the world is their oyster, so to speak. With a positive influence and role modeling, they will see this and develop self-confidence to become anyone they wish to become!
Tell me a little bit about the at-risk program at Highland Park Elementary. According to my Mom, the Elementary Principal, Highland Park is 70% free/reduced lunch. A lot of their students are high mobility, moving in and out with their families, going where work is located. Highland Park feeds into many apartment complexes. Currently, Highland Park has over 40 adults from our local community that mentor students weekly. We visit with the students for about twenty minutes, eat lunch, play academic games, or help with homework and studies.
What do you think is the most important part about teaching at risk students to “Dream Big”? Life is about what you give to others...time is irreplaceable. I was fortunate enough to have a family that values education and has encouraged me to go to college. Not every student has this situation at home. So, we need to inspire others. I tell my mentee that if they don't dream big, and have a vision, they lose sight of their goal and wander around carelessly. Shoot for the moon, because you will always land among the stars.
What do you plan on doing after high school? When I graduate in May, I will be attending Oklahoma State University with a degree in speech pathology or Agribusiness. My roots run deep in agriculture and I am very active in the FFA chapter in my hometown where I hone my leadership skills. I am planning to run for a State FFA Office next spring and hopefully follow in my Mom's footsteps. She was State FFA Reporter in 1991 and Served over 20,000 Oklahoma FFA Members by inspiring them to "Dream Big." I want to do just that.....I am putting myself out there...