New UVM club impacts disabled children in Burlington

Advocates for Exceptional Children Today is a new UVM club with a big cause.

ÒThe club began in 2010, to advocate for children with disabilities,Ó senior Shelby Sprung said.

The club ensured that all playgrounds in the Burlington area are handicap accessible through the principles of universal design.

Originally, the lack of active members in the club prohibited it to be officially recognized by the SGA.

This hindered their initiative to fundraise for the program through the school.

Sprung and the other members worked hard to recruit new members and did not give up.

To attract more members, the club expanded its goals.

This was made possible with the help of the clubÕs faculty advisor Jennifer Hurley.

Hurley is also the early childhood special education program director at UVM. She is in charge of both graduate and undergraduate programs.

The special education department recently received a grant for $1,250,000. Hurley played a role in orchestrating the grant.

ÒStudents under the grant focus on supporting children with disabilities including children experiencing poverty, homelessness, English language learning and newly arrived refugees and immigrants,Ó Sprung said.

The grantees are required to volunteer at a project called the Committee on Temporary Shelter.

Hurley and Sprung both decided that the best way to acquire more members for club AFECT would be through volunteer work at COTS.

ÒWith the backing of the grant and the stipulation in order to receive the grant all students had to join AFECT,Ó Deanna Lieberman, senior vice president of AFECT, said.

ÒThis jump started our membership and it only grew as people invited friends to come with them and join. We went from a club of about six people to around 40,Ó she said.

Through COTS, AFECT worked with the special education department.

Both groups participated in activities with children who resided at the shelter.

The activities were preplanned and included holiday crafts and various outdoor activities.

Along with the ongoing volunteer work at COTS, club AFECT has been involved with Relay for Life. Last year the club was recognized as the smallest team to participate, but still raised over $2,500.

The club also participated in AprilÕs Autism Awareness month.

To promote awareness of Autism, club AFECT handed out stickers and candy to students.

ÒWe plan on taking a much larger role in the community now that we have the backing of more people and the support of SGA,Ó Lieberman said.

In the future, the club plans to join the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.

The club plans to join the campaign by encouraging people to stop using the word Òretard.Ó

They plan to gather a band of students to pledge termination in using the word and teach the offense it brings to people.

Once again the club plans to participate in AprilÕs Autism Awareness month, this time collaborating with Autism Speaks in order to better spread knowledge with a large organization.

ÒTo anyone who wants to join AFECT, I would say itÕs a group of friends who get to give back to their community,Ó Lieberman said.

ÒYou can be as involved as you want and itÕs a fantastic experience.Ó