For some Staples High School students, club rush is a chance to grab candy, as organizations try to lure in new members.
For Taylor Harrington, it was a life-changing event.
As a freshman in 2011, she discovered Best Buddies. The organization — which fosters 1-on-1 friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their classmates — grew to be a passion.
As a junior, Taylor was paired with Wyatt Davis. Though they shared similar interests — sports, music and food — and had attended Coleytown Elementary and Middle Schools together, they did not know each other well.
Their relationship grew quickly. They attended Staples games together. Wyatt invited Taylor out on his family’s boat. They attended a “Walk the Moon” concert in New York.
Their friendship has lasted beyond high school. Wyatt has gone to Penn State — where Taylor is a sophomore — for a football game. She showed off the school she loves, and hit the Waffle Shop for eggs and pancakes.
For years the 2 friends have sat in Wyatt’s kitchen, watched his dad Brett cook, and chatted. “He makes the best food!” she says.
Wyatt — who has cerebral palsy — communicates using an iPad attached to his wheelchair. He has a great sense of humor, Taylor notes.
“I love being Taylor’s friend,” Wyatt — now a student at Gateway Community College — says by e-mail. “She makes things easy when we hang out. When she comes over, she’s like part of my family. She is incredibly genuine and sincere.”
“We are all way more similar than we are different,” Taylor notes. “Too many people judge Wyatt and other people with disabilities just because of their medical condition.
“That’s not fair. Wyatt doesn’t let his disability define him, which I love. Any time I think I can’t do something, I think of Wyatt’s attitude. I tell myself, ‘I can do this — just maybe not in the easiest way, or the first way I think of.'”
Last year — her first in college — Taylor realized how much she missed Best Buddies. She noticed that fellow students who had not gone to school with students with disabilities felt disconnected from them. She also wanted to learn more herself.
That led her to minor in disabilities studies. This semester she’s taking a course with a blind professor. She’s learning how blindness affects the woman’s life, and is asking questions she could not get from a textbook.
Last year, a Deaf Culture class helped her understand hearing impairments as a difference, not a disability.
Taylor’s major is advertising. Her other minor is entrepreneurship. All of those subjects converged in September, when Project Vive — a small State College-based start-up that makes communication devices for people with cerebral palsy and ALS — hosted a poetry night at their workspace.
A 70-year-old woman named Arlyn shared her poetry with an audience, for the first time ever. Because her speech is slurred, she used Project Vive’s Voz Box.
The Box is a speech generation device. It’s customizable — Arlyn operated it with her foot; others use a hand — and at $500 it costs far less than the $16,000 average of similar devices.
Taylor was excited to hear Arlyn — and eager to help.
Soon, she was hired as Project Vive’s marketing intern. She runs social media accounts, promotes events, and creates innovative ways to expand the company’s network of supporters.
She also runs an Indiegogo campaign.
That’s necessary, because even though the Voz Box is a lot less expensive than other speech generators, it’s still out of reach for many.
Her goal is $10,000. But she has less than 24 hours to reach it. The campaign ends tonight (Thursday, December 8) at midnight.
Taylor Harrington, Wyatt Davis, Arlyn the poet and Project Vive have one voice. Through it, they speak loudly and clearly: “Please help!”
Click here to contribute.