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State Honoree

Photo of State Honoree Kaleb Cook

Kaleb Cook

Robins, Iowa

Kaleb Cook, 18, of Robins, Iowa, a senior at Linn-Mar High School, created an organization that facilitates inclusive dance therapy for people with special needs, and has raised thousands of dollars for a year-round camp for people with disabilities. After a girl with Down syndrome became Kaleb’s best friend in kindergarten, he began to notice that “people were treating her differently because of her disability,” he said. But “our friendship allowed me to learn that we were more alike than different. This opened my eyes to a whole world full of social issues surrounding the population that has special needs.”

Kaleb started volunteering for organizations that promote inclusion and equality for special needs individuals, such as Special Olympics, Best Buddies and Camp Courageous. While volunteering at the camp, he attended a dance party and was struck by how easy it was for everyone to participate, regardless of disability. Afterward, he researched dance therapy, recruited a team of fellow high school students, and began teaching dance classes in special education classrooms in several school districts. Then, he and his team organized their own dance party, which raised $3,000 for Camp Courageous. Most recently, Kaleb has been working with professional dance teachers to develop a 10-lesson online dance therapy curriculum that could be used by students with special needs across the country. “I have seen firsthand that individuals’ disabilities need not hold them back,” he said. “A majority simply are not given the opportunities they deserve.”