Despite needing to use a wheelchair, she still smiled. She loved, she hugged and was happy. She became an inspiration to the people around her, especially her cousin.
Junior Abby Wolfe was inspired by her cousin Callie Jo Haux to start a club for physically challenged students to interact with other students at school through both in and out of school activities.
“Even though (Callie) had so many complications and her life was harder than anyone else’s, she was still the happiest person I knew,” Wolfe said. “It was kind of her legacy that inspired me to start the club.”
Wolfe’s club, Horizon Buddies, pairs physically challenged kids with one or two “buddies” from around Horizon Middle School to spend time with as a way for the kids with disabilities to interact with their classmates who they may otherwise not have the opportunity to spend time with.
“I thought it would be really hard to get kids to sign up,” Wolfe said. “I was really impressed by the numbers!”
There are 50 “buddies” involved in Horizon Buddies, in addition to the 15 recipients.
“If there’s people that want to be in it, we’d take anyone else,” Wolfe said.
The program is only at Horizon, but Wolfe hopes it will eventually grow and expand.
“That’s kind of my goal in the end,” Wolfe said. “To spread the club to other schools.”
Wolfe attributes the success of the club to the help of Horizon Middle School special education teacher Melissa Moritz who helped her get the club up and running.
“Abby was up for creating a group that would do just that. She wanted to call it ‘Callie’s Club,’” Moritz said.
Moritz also had a connection to Wolfe’s cousin, Callie Jo Haux, the inspiration behind the club. Moritz was Callie’s teacher seven years ago. Callie had cerebral palsy and passed away the year she left Horizon Middle School.
“She was an amazing young lady, to put it simply … she was medically fragile and just couldn’t keep up with what the world was handing her,” Moritz said.
Moritz and Wolfe got together in 2012, after talking at the Great American Bike Race, to brainstorm ideas of how to start the club in memory of Callie.
“For years I have been the person that attends the school dances, after school clubs and activities with students that I serve … I enjoy doing this, but it would be much better if they could hang out with their peers and I stand off to the side,” Moritz said. “I collaborated with parents of children with special needs to get their input as well. I was worried that our after school club idea was going to start strong and end with few participants.”
To rally members, Moritz went to each team house in Horizon and presented the club idea to the students.
“This club is different than others in the sense that there are ‘buddies’ that are relying on their ‘buddies’ to be there for them,” Moritz said. “This year the club is completely run by Abby and I volunteering our time and students paying their own way for weekend extensions. I think we would both like to see the club get involved in fundraising activities next year to support our activities as a club as well as support causes in the community in relation to individuals with special needs.”
The mission of Horizon Buddies is to promote inclusion, awareness and lasting friendships between buddies.
“I hope to see the friendships continue well into the high school years. I hope to see buddies at sporting events, helping at clubs, partnering at dances, being comfortable in environments and situations that they otherwise may not be,” Moritz said. “But honestly, my hope is that this club will bring more ‘Abbys’ to this world.”
Callie Jo’s mom, Cindy Kaelberer, is grateful for the club in memory of her daughter helping other kids with disabilities make friends.
“It’s not that (Callie) didn’t love friendships, but sometime it may be hard for others to communicate with kids different from them due to communication barriers,” Kaelberer said. “Once you start to understand their communication and a whole new friendship and world can be opened.”
There was no form of a “buddy” club available for physically challenged students when Callie was attending Horizon Middle School.
“I think this is such a great idea,” Kaelberer said. “I hope this goes over with great success and spreads to other schools!”
Kaelberer believes the club will give kids with disabilities the opportunity to feel like part of the crowd at school by facilitating these friendships with other students.
“Whether it’s intentional or not, I noticed many people may not be as comfortable going up to someone in a wheelchair, or someone who doesn’t have normal communication skills, and strike up a conversation or ask them to do something together,” Kaelberer said. “As a parent to any child, it’s hard when you see your child at a disadvantage, whether it be a health-related issue, pain or lack of friendships.”
Kaelberer admires Wolfe’s desire and dedication to pay it forward by starting this club in memory of Callie.
“Abby is an exceptional young lady and has already accomplished so much in her life,” Kaelberer said. “She was deeply touched and inspired by her cousin, and Callie was a wonderful person who taught such life-changing lessons.”