As freshman-year roommates at St. Olaf College, Becca Person and Avisya Mishra quickly discovered they had a special connection.

They both have a sibling with special needs. Now juniors, Becca and Avisya have turned that connection into service in action and are currently co-presidents of the Supporting Special Needs Club at St. Olaf. Avisya says that growing up with a brother with special needs has helped her realize the importance of advocating for a community of support. “I have always believed that people with special needs are capable of anything they want to do, and they themselves believe that, too, when they have the right people around them.”

The club’s mission is to promote empathy in place of sympathy for the special needs population by emphasizing education, advocacy and community involvement. The club, which has existed in some form for 10+ years, currently has 20-25 active members. The group has made a strong connection with LBSA and has been involved in various ways including volunteering at respite events. The group also hosts educational events on campus and recently facilitated a “Holiday Give Back” program, where club members raised money and gave care packages to over 80 special education providers in the local area.

Reflecting on why she took on the role of co-president of the club, Becca says, “I’ve seen how much people with special needs could use support and how much they love to feel included and appreciated. Working with my sister who has special needs, leading a similar club in high school and tutoring a young woman with autism in Northfield, I’ve seen firsthand just how impactful these connections are!”

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