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!