HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — It is Owen Hicks’ time to shine. He is performing with the Godwin High School chorus in front of his classmates and teachers.
“Singing is a lot of fun,” he says after the concert, adding that it is not the only way he gets involved.
Through a group called Jacob’s Chance, children and adults ages five to 25 with intellectual or physical challenges team up with their peers for athletic and social events.
“The teens realize there is no difference between the two,” explains Founder and Director Kate Tilley.
She named this nonprofit after Jacob Leonard who would have turned 25 last month.
“He always had a smile on his face, if he was in pain, if he couldn’t walk, whatever it was, he was always smiling,” Tilley says.
Leonard passed away when he was just eleven, but lives on throughout everyone included in the mission, like Hicks and Matthew McMillen who goes to Hermitage High School.
“I love meeting new people, meet them, learn about them and get a chance to have some new friends,” McMillen says of the experience.
What’s called the Jacob’s Chance United High School Board of Directors is now in eight schools. It’s Teen Scene program organizes dances, holiday celebrations and more.
“I like seeing new people and experiencing new stuff,” says Hicks.
Football, soccer and other sports get participants on the field for what is called Buddy Ball.
“Everybody wins in Buddy Ball, so it’s really fun,” McMillen chimes in.
Jacob’s Chance just secured some office space where it can expand its Teen Scene program and develop other ones.
“We’re always looking for ways to get all the kids involved, not just the special needs but their peers that they go to school with,” Tilley says. “The awareness is through the teens and out of the mouth of babes they say, and they have really made a difference.”
Tilley says she is pleased the mission is continuing in other ways too. So far, at least five Jacob’s Chance graduates have gone on to become special needs teachers.
“I love meeting new people, meet them, learn about them and get a chance to have some new friends,” says Hermitage High School student Matthew McMillen, who participates in several Jacob’s Chance activities a year.