Redmond High senior starts up club to help special-needs students

A recently formed Redmond High School (RHS) club, which pairs special-needs students up to high school age with high school buddies, held its first community activity on Saturday, March 19 at the Redmond Pool.

Michelle Solomon

A recently formed Redmond High School (RHS) club, which pairs special-needs students up to high school age with high school buddies, held its first community activity on Saturday, March 19 at the Redmond Pool.

SIFF (Sharing Interests Forming Friendships) was initiated by RHS senior Michelle Solomon, who has been an Applied Behavior Analysis therapist to a seven–year-old girl with autism for the past two years and also has been a peer coach for special needs students at her high school.

When she heard about a non-profit organization called Youth Venture Seattle, which offers grants to teens who are passionate about a cause, Solomon decided she could “break barriers” between developmentally disabled and typical students “and encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and form friendships with other people that could have normally been ignored,” she said.

Solomon worked with friends Laci Casto and Kayleigh Turney to create a proposal that resulted in a $1,000 grant from Youth Venture Seattle. Next, they created a Facebook page for SIFF and enlisted the help of RHS Health teacher Jeannine Ewing to recruit participants.

“We had a very successful turnout for our first meeting and have picked up members since then, as well,” said Solomon. “For getting special needs participants, we created a letter that was addressed to parents and we sent them to the students in the transition class at Redmond High and at Redmond Junior High and I spoke briefly at a Lake Washington School District PTSA Special Needs meeting and passed out letters to parents who were interested there. … I was unsure if people would be interested in the idea, but it is really pleasing that it is going so well and we are all having a great time.”

In April, SIFF volunteers and their buddies will visit the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. In May, the group plans to run a fundraiser so that the club will pick up again when school resumes in September.

“I definitely want it to be sustainable for years to come,” Solomon noted. “I would even love if it could go to other high schools in the area and later on become a national club. That would be so incredible, no words can describe it.”

Potential sponsors or participants can contact SIFF at siff@yvseattle.org.

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