Savannah Rock, 17, of Aurora, Colo., a senior at Grandview High School, began a campaign in 2011 to promote the inclusion of students with disabilities in all aspects of school life, and to change the way her whole community views and engages with people who have traditionally been excluded because of disability, race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Savannah’s inspiration was her older brother, who was born with a genetic disorder that causes cognitive delays. “I watched as he struggled with school, being bullied and excluded from activities in and out of school,” she said. “I saw the way schools and communities viewed people with disabilities and only identified them as their disability, not as the kind and loving people they truly are.”
Savannah’s “Project Unify” sponsors and organizes a series of programs and events designed to celebrate inclusion and bring students with and without disabilities together for meaningful interaction. These include school “spirit weeks,” music concerts, parties, sports activities, youth leadership meetings and camping outings. Savannah also helps lead unified sports activities, and was chosen to represent Colorado as a youth leadership ambassador to the Special Olympics USA Games. “My mission is to make all schools and communities inclusive and unified for all, to create a new way to embrace each other’s uniqueness and leverage our abilities to make the world a better place,” she said.