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State Honoree

Ashley Jackson

Mississippi

Ashley Jackson, 18, of Hattiesburg, Miss., a senior at Hattiesburg High School, founded a program that pairs high school students with disabled children to provide them with social relationships outside their homes. Ashley was inspired to start the program by her disabled little sister. “When my friends came to our house, my sister truly cherished the time they spent with her – her face would light up and she would be bubbly and full of life for hours after they left,” said Ashley. She realized that although families can provide plenty of love and support, these children need someone outside of their families to take an interest in them. She approached the local Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), which provided the names of 42 disabled children. Then, Ashley and some friends recruited 50 high school students to serve as buddies. They take their little buddies on outings and spend special time with them, helping them to develop their social skills and enjoy life. As a result of the program’s success, ARC of Hattiesburg plans to adopt Ashley’s program as one of its own.