MODESTO — Lynn Quijada-Vaughan wasn't quite sure what to think when Justine Wood called the Society for Handicapped Children and Adults, offering to volunteer. The society loves volunteers, particularly younger ones, but Justine was 10 how much could she do?
Right away, it became apparent Justine wasn't a typical 10-year-old.
"I told her to come in for an interview," Quijada-Vaughan said. "She came in with a résumé."
Justine, a fifth-grader at University Charter School in Modesto, wanted to volunteer for the organization as part of a school project. Justine was familiar with special needs children through her mother, Kristy, an occupational therapist for the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
Quijada-Vaughan suggested Justine help out with a bowling event; Justine did.
But that was just the beginning. Since then, Justine has taken an American Sign Language class. She's spent several hours in a wheelchair to learn firsthand what people with disabilities go through every day.
"She just jumped right in with both feet," Quijada-Vaughan said. "Now, she's become one of my most reliable and generous volunteers."
And then she decided to collect prom dresses for the society's Special Needs Ball.
Valley Apprentice gets ball rolling
The ball started as a project of The Valley Apprentice, a competition sponsored by The Bee and Modesto businessman Dan Costa that pitted teams of business people against one another in efforts to serve four local nonprofit organizations. The ball is in its third year and going strong, providing a glamorous night for 300 special needs young people, society executive director Marci Boucher said.
Many attendees can't go to typical proms because the facilities where they're held aren't disabled- accessible, or the special-needs attendees don't feel comfortable.
But to have a prom, you have to have dresses. So Justine went to work, hitting up family and friends for dance and other formal gowns to donate. Kristy Wood put the appeal on Facebook, and the response surprised even ambitious Justine.
"I thought we might get 35," she said. She's collected 45 dresses in many colors some with lace, some with ruffles, one with a bright green sash.
She's still collecting dresses and suits for the gentlemen, too but now she's turning her attention to raising money for the hard costs of the event. She doesn't just want to contribute; she wants to pay for the whole thing.
Granted, much of the goods and services, including the hall, are donated, so cash costs come to only $4,000. That's still a pretty hefty amount for a 10-year-old to raise.
But by now, nobody's doubting Justine Wood.
"She has a passion and a compassion that's so unusual for her age," Boucher said.
For Justine, her motivation is simple. "I go to my mom's schools and I see the people with disabilities," she said. "And I like helping people."
Quijada-Vaughan called Justine a great example for children her age and significantly older. "She doesn't put barriers on people."
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.
AT A GLANCE
Signups are under way for the Society for Handicapped Children and Adults' annual Special Needs Ball, set for March 23. Those who would like to attend are encouraged to sign up quickly; the event is free, but the 300 spots fill fast.
In addition to formal clothes and cash, the ball is in need of volunteers male and female to serve as escorts for the evening. Volunteers should be 14 or older.
For more information, contact the society at (209) 524-3536 or Programs@ societyforhandicapped.org.
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