Our Stars to help special needs kids reach for stars

Photo courtesy of Atlantacitizen

A year in the making, the new club Our Stars has recently finished holding applications for their executive board. This up and coming club plans to start an outreach program between Tech students and the special needs students in public schools in the greater Atlanta area.

Our Stars, the brainchild of third-year ME Ranjeema Maan, aims to help as many kids with disabilities in Atlanta as physically possible, one public school at a time. Though the club has only recently been chartered, they are already talking to Grady High School to work out a mentorship program between the school and the members of their club to help special needs students at the high school by hosting arts and craft events, social gatherings and
even  dances.

“Hopefully, by the end of the semester we’ll have a mentorship program going between Georgia Tech students and the special needs students of Grady High School,” Maan said. “This could include anything from small activities like arts and crafts to bigger things like hosting a dance for them or Special Olympics.”

Maan and her fellow founders, Teresa Ng Chen, third-year IE, Michelle Kwon, third-year BCHM, and Brandon Lee, third-year ME, have been working closely with the high school to get the program up and running as soon as possible. In addition to beginning conversations with the high school, the group had also been recruiting for their
executive board.

The applications for the executive board closed on Feb. 26, so with the newly formed board, Our Stars will soon be able to start organizing future events with Grady. They are hoping to have their new executive board start taking control of these meetings, as Maan and her co-founders are now upperclassmen who will soon be graduating.

Our Stars strives to create a community on Tech’s campus that partners with local schools to help integrate special needs students with their peers, as they are often more removed from social interactions with non-special needs people.

“Our whole idea with this is that we want to bring attention to the lack of social events available to special needs students,” Maan said. “We just feel like we don’t really see them at baseball games, hanging out at the mall or going to actual proms. We’re just hoping to give them that opportunity to fit in better in society.”

Unlike any other volunteer organization on campus, including Tech Beautification Day, Sting Break, M.O.V.E. (Animal welfare, hunger and homelessness, senior services, etc.) and tutoring, Our Stars’ sole focus is on making special needs students feel welcome at whichever school they attend and whichever social event they may find themselves as students at
that school.

Because of this, the club brings something completely new to Tech’s diverse philanthropic community, a contribution Maan has been wanting to make for a very long time.

Maan has been extremely passionate about this cause since her high school days and, when she arrived at Tech, had wanted to continued with in college.

“I went to Kennesaw Mountain High School, where I was involved in the leadership department,” Maan said. “We actually held a dance where we invited every special needs student from Cobb County to our gym. We also had our students — the high school students — come and skip class and also dance with
these kids.

“There were like 1000 people in the gym, all having fun. It would always be themed. We’d always get shirts, and it was one of the kids’ favorite experiences from high school — they’d be looking forward to it every year. And I felt like GT didn’t have anything of that sort. I’ve tried to join a lot of clubs, and nothing’s really stuck with me that well, but I felt like this is something I’m really passionate about.”