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Shattering stereotypes

Disabilities can’t stop Silver Sands Key Clubbers

Story by Matt Gonzales 

Throughout the world, more than 267,000 high school students call themselves Key Clubbers. They come from all different backgrounds, experiences and levels of academic achievement. 

That’s a big part of what makes Key Club special: No matter who you are or where you’re from, Key Club has a place for you. 

But at Silver Sands School in Okaloosa County, Florida, something really special is happening. 

Focusing on abilities, not disabilities 

Silver Sands is a school for students with developmental disabilities. In addition to cognitive limitations, many of its students have visual, hearing and other impairments. But that didn’t stop them from successfully starting a new Key Club last October. 

The Silver Sands Key Club is one of only a few Key Clubs in the world that has been chartered at schools for students with disabilities. For the club’s members, the Key Club core value of inclusiveness has special meaning. 

"The students at Silver Sands are so accustomed to having others help them," says Kaye McKinley, member of the Fort Walton Beach Kiwanis Club and co-founder of the Silver Sands Key Club. "It seemed like a great idea to give them the opportunity to help others." 

Rallying the troops 

McKinley, the deputy superintendent of the Okaloosa County school district, pitched the idea to Silver Sands teacher Kate Freeman, who agreed to be the club's faculty advisor. “I thought it was a great idea,” Freeman says. “And once the principal [Alan Lambert] was on board, it was all systems go from there.” 

Freeman narrowed down her list to 19 students who were good candidates for first-year Key Club membership. Each student was invited, and each one accepted the invitation. 

Within weeks, the Silver Sands Key Club members began working on their first service project: Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. The group raised US$462.99, all of which went to The Eliminate Project: Kiwanis eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus. 

Spreading their wings 

At one of the Florida District’s Key Club Spring Zone rallies, the Silver Sands officers got their first chance to mix and mingle with Key Clubbers from other schools. 

"It was the first time our kids were really involved with other members," Freeman says. "They were really interactive, and the other kids were helpful and inclusive. Our members came away proud and confident." 

That confidence has carried over at school. The members of the Silver Sands Key Club seem to walk the hallways with their chins a little higher, exuding a newfound sense of self-esteem. 

"It's nice to see them so proud," Freeman says. "This is something that has made them feel good about themselves. And the kids who aren't in Key Club are all asking about how they can join next year." 

Club president Kyle Peagues says being part of Key Club has been one of his best high school experiences. 

"We get to get together, serve others and meet new people,” he says. “It feels good. We get to help people, and I feel proud of myself." 

How do you encourage inclusiveness in your club? Leave a comment below for the chance to be featured in the September 2013 issue of Key Club magazine.