A Warm WINGS Welcome

BY NICOLE LOVECCHIO, REGIONAL OPERATIONS DIRECTOR - CHARLESTON

A broken leg, metal rods, and a wheel chair—this is how Jacob started his fifth grade school year. After a major surgery to repair his bowed legs, and a tough three-month recovery, Jacob was back in school. Metal rods now secured his femur and tibia, and he wasn’t permitted to put any weight on his foot (easier said than done for a fifth grader!).

School now presented a whole new set of challenges for Jacob. Pre-teen years were already hard enough, much less when facing your peers while harboring these challenges. Jacob’s mother begged that we take Jacob into the WINGS program. On his first day at the program I was petrified. “What if he gets hurt?,” I thought. “What if the kids tease him or he has no friends.” I could only imagine what additional challenges may pop up for Jacob.

In advance of Jacob joining the WINGS program, I prepped our staff, reminding them to “let their WINGS out” and exhibit empathy, encouraging their kids to do the same. And as he entered WINGS on his first day I held my breath, bracing for the kids’ reactions.

To my amazement, the opposite occurred. Kids greeted him the “WINGS way”—with no prejudices. They offered Jacob their assistance with WINGS tasks and introduced him to other WINGS kids and WINGSLeaders.

I was so proud of our kids! The social and emotional lessons we were teaching our kids were working right in front of my eyes. I beamed with pride as a fourth-grade girl with tears in her eyes admitted that she felt so bad for Jacob and couldn’t believe all he was dealing with. She said she “wanted to cry for him”… was this our “step into other people’s shoes” learning objective at play or what?

I watched this same example play out with a handful of other WINGS kids across the room. Empathy was happening right in front of my eyes, and at that moment I was 100% positive WINGS can and was changing these kids’ lives. We were turning at-risk kids, who could easily follow the path more commonly followed—a path where being a bully was the norm and demanded respect—and we were replacing their need for negative behaviors with an understanding of compassion and sympathy. It was truly amazing.