Asking fellow students to get Smart with Heart

Seventeen-year-old Stephanie Wahab is passionate about helping teens with developmental disabilities.

The Providence High School senior has been working with them since she was 12, and now she’s encouraging her peers to get involved.
After volunteering for the Allegro Foundation, a nonprofit organization that combines movement instruction with educational and medical expertise, Stephanie found her vision to help children with disabilities was even bigger than she could ever imagine. After entering high school, she started giving back in a small way that ended up making a big impact.

As a freshman in high school, skipping her lunch period to hang out in the exceptional children classroom at the school was far from ordinary, but it’s something she wanted to do. And after seeing her commitment and willingness to help out, Stephanie’s friends wanted to give a helping hand, too.

“I saw that other kids wanted to be involved,” she said. So much so that Stephanie now has her own nonprofit called Smart with Heart, a foundation that helps children with disabilities by pairing them with smart teens who want to make a difference by volunteering to champion the social, academic and physical needs of children with disabilities.

Starting just a year ago, Smart with Heart has worked at Providence to partner students with disabilities with regular developing students to help battle bullying by creating friendships. So far, around 50 students are volunteering on a regular basis, Stephanie said.

“I’ve got a huge response,” she said. “I’ll put up sign-up sheets at the end of the school day, and by the next morning, there are 30 students signed up.”

Stephanie also has spread her mission by speaking with parent groups at other local schools, such as Hawk Ridge Elementary, explaining the benefits and importance of connecting the two groups of students.

But her biggest challenge is yet to come. Stephanie recently had the idea to take Smart with Heart out in the community by creating her first event solely dedicated to the cause. Called Walk for the Children, she hopes to have at least 100 to 200 participants come out to Squirrel Lake Park, 1631 Pleasant Plains Road in Matthews, on Saturday, Nov. 10. The event is to help create awareness about kids with disabilities and to raise money for disadvantaged schools with special needs programs. The walk kicks off at 1 p.m. and will last until 4 p.m. and includes a raffle to help raise money. Participants can enter the raffle by purchasing a $6 event t-shirt. Raffle items include gift cards and prizes donated by local businesses.

Money will benefit disadvantaged schools in the Charlotte-area and even some schools who just need extra help like Stephanie’s own school, Providence High.

“There are a couple of children I know that definitely need the money,” she said, adding she’s also looking into schools like Montclaire Elementary School.

But Stephanie’s ultimate goal is to take her initiative nationwide, reaching as many children in schools as possible. As for the future of her nonprofit, she’s applying to colleges and universities who have specific funding for nonprofits, such as Washington University and Yale University, since the greatest challenge so far has been raising money.

“Overall, I just want to see students actually involved in the special needs classroom, enhancing their social abilities,” Stephanie said. “It’s amazing because the students start having goals for the students with disabilities. It’s overcoming such obstacles that really enhances their bond and it’s something both sides really become emotionally invested in.”

Stephanie is an honors student at Providence and an avid singer. For more information on her nonprofit or the Walk for the Children, visit www.smartwithheart.org.

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