2017 Gratitude Challenge Winner: Kerin Neely

The next winner of the 4th Annual Gratitude Challenge is Kerin Neely.  Below, she shares her story of giving back to children with disabilities.


Something that is very near and dear to my heart, and I feel doesn’t get enough acknowledgement is helping children with disabilities, especially children with disabilities in the school system. Last year around this time, I started substituting in one of the “Autism Spectrum Disorder” focused classrooms at the elementary school in my area, I saw so many kids that had such varying needs, and needed help through so many different things, and that was when I realized that that was what I wanted to do in my future. I wanted to help those kids, and give them a chance and a voice. I then got a job as a paraprofessional in that same classroom, and worked one-on-one with the sweetest kindergartener that was having a lot of trouble adjusting to the schedule and demands of school. He would get physical, and start yelling, and would refuse to do any work. He had been held back in kindergarten last year due to these things. It was a tough go, but eventually with me working with him day in and day out, he started to become more verbal, he started to let me know if something was agitating him and he didn’t want to continue doing it, and most importantly, he started to really learn. I was teaching him to read and write and spell, and he was EXCITED about it. He was always grabbing his white board and telling me he was going to spell his name, or the other students names! It was such a remarkable feeling to watch him grow as a student, and see him be able to sit down and do an assignment, or play with the rest of the group of children without acting out violently. Even though he has moved up a grade, I’ve continued to work with this particular student because he just really responds to me, and I’ve created such a bond with him and I want to see him continue to do well.

Since then, I’ve continued working with ASD students, and have also had the opportunity to work with “Intellectually Disabled” kids, which was also an extremely beneficial experience for me and for them, I hope!

 Knowing that I can, and have, made a difference for so many of these kids encourages me to keep going in this field, and lets me know that all of the hard days that we encounter together will be worth it in the end. 

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