WAHS student helps make homecoming a special night

Brielle Whitney, Kaylee Turner, and Audrey Ferrie.

“I was out to make their night, but honestly, they ended up making mine,” said Warren Area High School student Audrey Ferrie.

Ferrie attended a 4-H State Leadership Conference earlier this year. During the conference, she heard Kevin Laue speak. It inspired her.

Seven feet tall with only one arm, Laue has overcome adversity in his life and gone on to play basketball competitively throughout high school and college.

Now, Laue is an advocate for youth with disabilities. He encouraged those at the conference to “go back and make a difference. You’re all leaders in this room,”

Ferrie repeated from his presentation: “But you have to stand out.”

She did just that. She returned to Warren and told her mom that she wanted so much to make a difference. But how?

“Just keep your eyes open,” Ferrie said her mother told her. “Something will come up.”

“I noticed that the Life Skills kids don’t really come to dances,” said Ferrie.

So, one month before Homecoming, she saw an opportunity to do for others, part of Laue’s instructions at the conference. Ferrie said that she approached Life Skills teacher Steve Edwards and told him that she’d like to invite all of the Life Skills kids to Homecoming.

Life Skills is the curriculum for students in the Warren County School District with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Often, said Edwards, students in Life Skills don’t get involved because there’s a need for supervision at events that includes people with whom the students already have a rapport.

Supervisors who understand the students’ unique needs and how to interact with them are not always available, said Edwards. But he liked Audrey’s idea and wanted to help her make it happen. Audrey sent a sheet home with the Life Skills kids to explain to parents that she was inviting all of them to Homecoming, and that Edwards would be available to supervise. She also approached two friends — Brielle Whitley and Garrett Head, asking them to come and help with supervision and interactions as well.

“I was expecting about 10,” said Ferrie.

And, as Homecoming drew closer, the sheets were not coming back.

“I was starting to get a little nervous,” Ferrie said.

She went to check in with Edwards and he told her that 21 students were opting in for the dance. Ferrie said that she and Edwards made arrangements for the Life Skills classroom to be available two hours before the dance, and they ordered pizza and drinks so students could come early and socialize before the big event. Ferrie also approached different members of the community for help with corsages and boutonnieres, with offsetting the cost of tickets for students who couldn’t afford them, and with finding dresses and suits for students who didn’t have formal wear of their own. And the community, she said, responded generously.

The dance was held on Oct. 21 at the WAHS cafeteria and all of the Life Skills kids who came, said Ferrie, seemed to enjoy it.

Kaylee Turner, a junior at WAHS, was one of the students who definitely enjoyed herself. “It was fun,”said Turner. She loved the dancing and she said she danced with lots of people that night. Kaylee had so much fun and was so tired after, in fact, that she fell asleep on the way home, according to her mom.

Jeremy Sensenig, a WAHS senior, was an emphatic fan of the evening. “I think he covered every inch of that dance floor,” said Ferrie. Sensenig did not disagree. “It was so much fun,” said Sensenig, who along with Turner, said he’d like to go to Homecoming again next year.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Edwards, who added that over the years Life Skills teachers have done things like this before, but with the ebb and flow of students comes an ebb and flow of interest, so organizing an effort to get Life Skills students naturally died out over the last few years. He was happy to see it coming back along with interest from the students.

“I’d like to see it keep going,” said Ferrie, who added that ultimately she’d love to see Laue speak at WAHS so that other students could be inspired as she was at the leadership conference.

“I’d like to see something get started like a buddy system,” so that students with intellectual or developmental disabilities could be paired with non-disabled peers go to sporting events, other dances, and get involved in all of the extracurricular social events that bring the high school experience to life.