SHOREWOOD — Twelve-year-old Alan Guzman is on his way to becoming a community leader, having spent this past school year volunteering with community organizations, after-school programs and other activities.
He said it's all thanks to the L.E.A.D. club at William B. Orenic Intermediate School — a student club in its first year that focuses on leadership, empathy, action and dedication.
He and two other members of the L.E.A.D. Club spent Tuesday afternoon at Crossroads Elementary School in Shorewood helping children with disabilities and special needs train ahead of this weekend's Special Olympics competition.
“It's really helping me become a leader at my school,” Alan said. “But it's also fun, too, getting to hang out with new friends.”
Alan, Zach Roberts, 11, and Brianna Reese, 10, led stretching exercises in the gym Tuesday, shortly before the 30-plus students broke up into different groups so they could practice softball and tennis ball throws, running and long jumps.
While Zach and Brianna helped with running and other activities, Alan teamed up with Lawson Sizemore, 12, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a motorized wheelchair, to practice his tennis ball throws. Sizemore is competing in that category at the Special Olympics competition in South Holland this weekend.
Alan and Lawson said they like hanging out together. The two know each other from previous classes.
“We stood next to each other in choir,” Lawson said.
Alan said he and Lawson also spent time together when L.E.A.D. members worked with students with special needs for basketball practice earlier this year.
“It's a lot of fun,” Lawson said.
Kim Rothstein, athletics director for the Special Olympics after-school program in the Troy School District, said she enjoys the L.E.A.D. members helping out.
“It's good bonding,” Rothstein said.
Lawson's mother, Marlene Sizemore, said she appreciates the L.E.A.D. club members taking time out of their day.
"I love the club because they don't see the disability. They see friends. They see people," Marlene Sizemore said. "They're energetic and they're happy and so nice."
The L.E.A.D. club is based out of the William B. Orenic Intermediate School, but extends its reach beyond the school and into the community through service projects.
Since its inception at the start of the school year, club members have stayed busy by volunteering at food pantries, nursing homes, homeless shelters and blood drives. They also participate in the school's Buddy System in welcoming new students.
For more information about the club, visit http://www.leadclub.weebly.com.