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Building friendships

A club at North County Middle School is making a difference for a special group of students who wouldn’t otherwise have such an opportunity.

North County Middle School Strategy Specialist Angela Zolman said the club, Friends Link, was kid-inspired after Principal Brenda Hampton hired her to co-sponsor their Middle School Student Council.

“My kids are special needs and they get to hire peer tutors,” said Zolman. “Then they get to do work and personalization stuff and it is really fun. My room became a hub of kids, with student council kids coming in throughout the day working on posters and projects, and it kind of broke the ice between the two groups.”

Zolman said she has worked with special needs for 11 years and one thing she has noticed with exceptional kids is that it is hard for them to develop relationships. The student council really started to get her kids out more and after talking with other community members about a club, they decided to run with it.

“We wanted to see how many kids were interested in it and we ended up having 75 kids apply,” Zolman said. “We have to knock it down to the first 30 because there was no way the kids could interview everybody.”

Zolman said they saw them working so well together, the kids were developing friendships and recognizing social norms.

“So my para Angie Gillam and I thought, ‘Wow! We could turn this into an official club!’” recalled Zolman. “I talked to Mrs. Hampton about it and she took it to the board and it was accepted as a club.”

She explained they will have game days to see if a person is a good fit with the special needs student. Zolman said they will bond after that and become friends. They all have someone to sit with at lunch now whenever they eat and that is a big deal.

“Once we became a club, we needed to fundraise money for field trips,” said Zolman. “Our Special Ed Director Dawn Eaton offered up the idea of starting a coffee shop and the rest is history. Honestly we wouldn’t be as successful as we have been without the support and enthusiasm of our awesome administration.”

Zolman said they have 10 students with exceptional needs with various disabilities and identifications. Right now in the club there are 30 kids and they get to choose a kid or two they get to work with in the group.

“The idea of the club is that it is a joint partnership between the students; my students spend socialization time with different applicants of the club and my kids choose who they want to work with,” Zolman said. “Once the peers are ‘hired,’ we teach the teams lessons in socializing and understanding cues from both sides.”

Zolman explained they tell their new hires, they are all on a level playing field and they have something that helps them become better people.

“The friendships that develop here are authentic and original and we enjoy watching both sides learn acceptance and appreciation of each other’s differences and talents,” said Zolman. “Along with the developing relationships, our teams learn how to work together and run businesses.”

Zolman said the coffee shop is a real hit in the building. The groups develop and learn recipes, proper food hygiene expectations, money counting and management characteristics that can be utilized in future employment opportunities.

Emma Weiss said they take kids, like her friend, Satina Gage, to give them a chance to do something on their own.

“We are just here to help them if they need help,” said Weiss. “So they are really running all of this, they make the coffee, they take the money and we go on deliveries to deliver coffee to teachers. It helps to make money for the club to do things.”

Weiss said she loves being a part of the group and enjoys everyone’s company.

Abigail Law said the club is so great and everyone is always so nice. She added they have all become best friends.

“Sometimes we play games, have a meeting or talk about what we want to do the next month,” said Law. “I love being able to do things like this and when I found out about the club I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.”

Liam Engle is part of Zolman’s class and he said he likes to work and help with delivering coffee. He also handled the money on Wednesday and they brought in $70 just from selling coffee.

“A lot of people like mocha and I like to help with making things on the menu,” said Engle. “I am happy to help animals from being extinct. I have never been with a club like this before and I like it. I have lots of friends around the entire school. We get to know each other a lot.”

Engle said he thinks everyone should be part of some kind of club, any kind of a club.

Gage said she is on seventh grade and she has met a lot of new friends. It makes her so happy to be a part of it.

“I made a flying dragon, but it’s gone,” said Gage. “I wanted to hang it up and have it say ‘be careful dragons like to drink coffee.’ I feel pretty happy to deliver and make everyone’s coffee. That makes everyone else happy.”

Gage said she draws decorations on the cups and will sometimes deliver them.

“Friends Link is a great opportunity and privilege,” said Addy Reed. “The kids bring out the best in me and always put a smile on my face.”

Zolman said their club is also teaming up with the Student Council, Future Tree Huggers Club, and the Missouri Department of Conservation to plant and cultivate an outdoor classroom that doubles as a monarch butterfly garden.

“Several graduates of our high school’s LCE program have been successful in finding work in the local parks and gardens, so this too can piggy back off of the high school program to help open doors for future employment opportunities,” said Zolman. “Overall this club has been a blessing to be a part of and watching teenagers learn how to respect and accept one another, while sharing kindness and understanding toward one another gives me faith in our future as a society.”

Zolman added that in addition to raising money for the club, the coffee shop is also a hands-on learning experience for the kids. They learn math while they measure ingredients and count money.

Students with the Friends Link Club at North County Middle School run a coffee house a couple times a month to raise money for their club.

Students with the Friends Link Club at North County Middle School run a coffee house a couple times a month to raise money for their club.

Lance Copling serves Austin Davis an iced Raider Rock-a-cino.

Lance Copling serves Austin Davis an iced Raider Rock-a-cino.

From left, Savannah Hasemeier, Addy Reed, Faith Hanes, Mackenzie Williams, Lilian Estes (turned) and Abby Long are busy making coffee orders.

From left, Savannah Hasemeier, Addy Reed, Faith Hanes, Mackenzie Williams, Lilian Estes (turned) and Abby Long are busy making coffee orders.

Mason Sherrow, Lance Copling, and Aurora Magura enjoy their time at the coffee house.

Mason Sherrow, Lance Copling, and Aurora Magura enjoy their time at the coffee house.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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