Once a month, the Ability Team, a student led organization consisting of about 275-300 members, brings people from every walk of life together in fellowship and understanding.
“We basically provide a forum for kids to get together and do various activities, and interact with kids they might not otherwise see on campus,” said club sponsor Alison Bendele.
The team meets to discuss disabilities, to foster new and otherwise unlikely friendships, and to have fun. During the meetings, a guest speaker–a teacher or a parent or a student–gives a presentation about a specific disability in order to facilitate understanding.
“I think the more you know about something the less scared you become, and the less stereotypes you have,” Bendele said. “Everybody has a story, whether they have a diagnosed disability or not. Recognising that they have a story is important.”
For many students, the Ability Team is a place of refuge.
“I have kids who everyday come and eat lunch in here, because it’s a safe place,” said Bendele. “I don’t tolerate any sort of bullying or anything like that.”
For others, it is a place to make friends.
“Usually, in class, it’s hard to talk to people ‘cause you’re worried about listening to the teacher, taking notes, and other issues like that,” said junior Tim Napoli. “The Ability Team is better than that because you can go out of your comfort zone and talk to people that may have the same disabilities that you do, or that may understand what you’re going through.”
Napoli has benefited from the Team and has watched others do the same.
“It helped me to become social. It helped me to become a better person,” said Napoli. “As well, with people without disabilities, it helps them to realize that people with disabilities aren’t different from anybody else.”
Amanda Wilson, the president of the Ability Team, has learned an important lesson as well.
“You have to be nice to people,” she said. “It’s so important that no matter who you are, you should be nice to people and people should be nice to you back.”
“The club’s doors are open to anyone.
“It’s okay if the person sitting next to you is completely different than you in every way,” said Wilson. “You have to make sure that you’re understanding of them and you treat them as you want to be treated.”