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State Honoree

Michael Kay

Illinois

Michael Kay, 13, of Wilmington, Ill., a member of the University of Illinois’ Will County 4-H program in Joliet and an eighth-grader at L. J. Stevens Middle School, developed a program to provide companionship for 61 handicapped residents of 10 group homes through “buddy” relationships with middle and high school students. Inspired by his handicapped younger brother, Michael wanted to include people who often feel excluded, and to fight the stereotypes that many have of those who are different. His program, called “Share a Friend,” was designed to accomplish both goals. Michael first approached the administrators of the 10 area group homes for their approval and asked members of his 4-H club for their help in administering the program. He then publicized the program, spoke to community groups, recruited 84 middle and high school students to become buddies, and raised money to fund the program. He schedules activities such as bowling and golf outings and birthday and holiday parties, which the group home residents had not enjoyed before. “We can all make a difference in someone’s life, and sometimes in the smallest ways,” said Michael. His program recently became the Share A Friend 4-H Foundation in memory of his brother, Kyle, who died in February. Michael is now working with state government officials to expand his program to group homes across Illinois.