In 2008, Kelly Cupp, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, met her friend Joel Clark, 13, who has Down’s syndrome, during Lakengren’s annual “Family Fun Day” event which was kick-started by Kelly’s mother, Jan Kaye.
Six years later, on Tuesday, May 27, the pair went to Twin Valley South’s Middle School dance together.
The event, geared towards children and adults who are living with special needs and their families, provides a sense of community and unity to those who attend.
Upon setting eyes upon each other, Kelly and Joel immediately made a connection. Kelly, who is non-mobile and non-verbal, smiles constantly when Joel is near her. “He’s real gentle,” said Kaye. “When he sees her in the hallway here, he’ll go up to her and say hi.”
Kelly is typically always smiling, said her mother. When she isn’t, it’s an indicator that something is medically wrong with the young girl.
“Jan and I have always joked that ‘when they go to the dance…’, when the dance was actually coming up, Jan looked at Joel and went … ‘Joel, are you taking [another friend of Joel’s], or are you going to take Kelly?’ and Joel said, ‘Kelly’,” said his mother Christine Clark.
“Then my husband put his arm around [Joel] and said, ‘we’re going to have a talk before you take my daughter out’,” said Jan, laughing. “I said, ‘don’t scare him off!’ But it didn’t. He just did his agreeable self and said, ‘yes’,” said Jan.
The pair enjoy boating and swimming together. “Joel doesn’t see anybody as different,” said Christine Clark. “Everybody is everybody.” Christine said Twin Valley Schools have been imperative to Joel’s growth; not only tending to his education, but his behavioral traits, and even his athletics.
The school allows Joel to sit through regular classes, called the “inclusion” program. This allows Joel to surround himself with non-disabled children his age, so he can learn how to act socially in a classroom. “By associating more with kids who are not disabled, they get to learn better how they associate and socialize in real life,” said Christine. “Every time we go to the grocery store, to Wal-Mart, Joel knows more people than anyone … and they go out of their way to come and talk to him … the school has been a blessing for him.”
“He not only has friends that are special needs, but he has friends who are non-disabled, and they invite him to birthday parties, they invite him to sleep over.”
Joel is also involved with athletics at TVS. Christine says Joel knows all the cheers the cheer squad does, he plays baseball, and was just approved by his cardiologist to practice with the TVS football team. His favorite subject is choir, and he plays the drums in music class. Joel is involved with The Hilltop Equestrian Center, located on U.S. 35, where he recently received ribbons for showing his horse, Apache. Joel is responsible for cleaning stalls, grooming, and helps to put the saddle on.
Both Jan Kaye and Christine are participating in a special-needs foster care system. The two are expecting foster kids within the year.