So, they went to the principal and asked what they could do. He suggested they could use their home room period at the beginning of the day to spend time with the special needs students.

Givens and Williams took full advantage, coming to school well before classes would start and playing games like Uno and Trouble with students through the announcements.

After this success, they tried to start a Best Buddies program at the school. Best Buddies is a national organization that encourages students to spend time with their special needs peers. The school was still new, however, and couldn't financially support the program. That didn't stop the pair, though.

"We basically didn't take 'no' as an answer," Williams said. "If they're not going to let us do [Best Buddies], let's just make something; let's just do it."

Williams and Givens started their own program, the Interactive Inclusion Program (IIP) to interact with special needs students at the school.

"Jon was a wrestler, I was a golfer," Givens said. "We were pretty popular in school. If we said 'let's hang out these kids for an hour during lunch,' 10-20 kids would come out and play games with us."

Support from classmates

Within one month, the program grew from Givens, Williams and a few friends to about 60 students, all spending time with developmentally disabled students.

They took advantage of expanded, 50 minute lunch periods to meet three days a week to plan and coordinate activities to help disabled students be included in the rest of the student body.

The program's members started by sitting with the disabled students during lunch on Mondays teaching social skills. On Wednesdays, they had "chef's days" where the disabled students would be taught to cook easy meals by guest chefs including principals, teachers and even staff from local pizza shops. Friday would be a reward day where they would have activities like Nintendo Wii games, picnics and even talent shows.

Soon, the perception of developmentally disabled students began to change. The pair would speak to popular students, like the captains of sports teams, and urge them to participate and police any mockery of the disabled students.

"Be the role model you're supposed to be. Be an advocate, speak up for them," the group told the captains. "They may not be able to express themselves, so express it for them. Treat others the way you want to be treated."

This had a profound effect. The word "retard" fell into disuse, and students from outside the club would come to the group's events, even cheering for the special needs students in sports activities.

"You'd be surprised how many kids would come out and make posters and cheer the kids on," Williams said. "By the time we left that high school, if you said the R word in class, it wouldn't take a second before two or three people were like "don't say that, use something else.' "

"Kids who were against [the program]; we filtered them out," Williams said. They told them that even if they were against it, "don't look down on us, don't bash us, and don't disrespect the kids. Don't be a bully."

Acceptance, awareness

Givens and Williams say they hope acceptance and awareness of people with developmental disabilities increases.

For people with disabilities, "You go out in public with kids and they look at you, they stare at you and they give you mean looks and they say mean things to you and it's like hey, he's just like you or me," Williams said. "What if you were to be born like this, what would you do? Or, if this was your son or daughter, how would you feel? How would you want other people to treat you?"

"We want that to be completely demolished, for [special needs] to be accepted, because what's normal?" Givens asked. "What are we comparing ourselves to? Who holds the standard?"

"We want to be able to promote so much acceptance and awareness that they can be anywhere in public and nobody would say a thing to them," Williams said.