In this post, seventeen year old Sarah Marcuccio answers our questions about her involvement with The Sparkle Effect and how she created a squad in Connecticut's Wethersfield High School.
What inspired you to create a Sparkles program in your own school?
I have always worked with kids with disabilities and when I learned about this organization, I was ecstatic to help start one! I wanted each individual to feel as if they fit in with their peers, and to help make that possible was our biggest goal.
When did you create the program?
The administrators and I started putting it together in February, 2011 and practices started in June, 2011.
Was it challenging to get the team off the ground? If so, what did you do to overcome these challenges?
In any sport you have your fears of trying something new, right? Therefore, before we started any type of stunting to where squad members would be lifted off the ground, I wanted to make sure these girls had enough trust in each other. By doing that, I made sure there was a connection and at least three or four girls felt comfortable with each other. Once we got to that point, they chose who they wanted to lift them. We started off with very basic skills and moved higher and higher. If they didn't feel comfortable, we would continue doing what they felt safe doing until they were ready. Every time they accomplished a certain goal you couldn't help but smile along with them!
When the squad was first created, what was the reaction from the other cheerleaders in the squad?
When it first started, there were only two or three girls who worked with students with disabilities. As the bonding experienced throughout each practice with these girls progressed, more and more of the varsity cheerleaders contributed their help during the school day. So many friendships were formed!
What has been the most fulfilling moment for you, or what would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?
I would have to say our first pep rally would have to be the most fulfilling moment. With all the pep rallies I’ve attended since I was a freshman, I’ve learned to realize the noise level can be outrageous. When the Sparkles performed, not one student made a single sound. But once we ended our performance, the energy and positive feedback was overwhelming and it literally gave me chills all over my body and tears came storming down my face. I have never been so proud of the amount of confidence the Sparkle girls gained – that truly is the most fulfilling moment from this whole experience.
How has working with The Sparkle Effect impacted your life?
I have always known I wanted to pursue a career in Special Education, and The Sparkle Effect has been a great learning experience. It has made me look at life in a completely different way, where not only do I want to help kids with disabilities, but everyone in need of help. The Sparkle Effect was what I looked forward to each day, seeing those girls grow each practice as individuals and a team.
What advice do you have for other high school students looking to become involved with The Sparkle Effect?
I strongly suggest you start a Sparkle Effect squad. You will never feel the way you do when you leave those girls after a practice or game. I have never seen so much true spirit and excitement from the girls when they perform. To feel like you have changed someone’s life in any way is the greatest accomplishment I believe you can ever make; and that is the way you feel every day when you work with a Sparkle squad. You're making a difference in their lives and for once they have the opportunity to feel like they aren't different.