My name is Sarah and I am the founder of Score A Friend. I grew up in a family of five,
including my twin brother, Jacob. Jacob and I grew up doing everything together. We had joint
friends, birthday parties, sports, and activities. However, as we got older I got busier with friends
and activities, while Jacob got less and less busy and had fewer and fewer friends. It wasn’t until
fourth grade when I realized that Jacob had no friends at all. It wasn’t because he didn’t try
enough sports or activities or because he didn’t try and make friends, it was because he has an
Autism Spectrum Disorder and the opportunities for friendship were few.
At age 13, I was ready to start a Girl Scout Gold Award Project—which is similar to a
Boy Scout Eagle Award. For my project, I decided that I wanted to find my twin brother, Jacob,
a friend. I knew if I could help him, I could help many other kids, too.
I immersed myself in the disability world, interviewing kids, parents, providers, and
learning all I could. I found that there are over 300 million kids with disabilities worldwide.
According to UNICEF, “Children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized and
excluded groups of children, experiencing widespread violations of their rights. Too often,
children with disabilities are denied and judged by what they lack rather than what they have.
Their exclusion and invisibility serves to render them uniquely vulnerable, denying them respect
for their dignity, their individuality, even their right to life itself”. The mission of the US
Department of Education is to promote student achievement and preparation for global
competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ENSURING EQUAL ACCESS.
Despite the numerous legal mandates for equal
access and opportunity, I found that schools across our country fall short. Kid’s lives revolve
around their schools. Kids meet and interact in school courses, sports and clubs. Kids with
disabilities, however, are often isolated from other students, and are often unable to join and be
successful in school sports and clubs. In what many schools call inclusive classes, students with
disabilities are in the back of the room—present—but not actively participating or learning
course material. Students lack education and experience with students with disabilities. Students
are role modeled and even taught that they need training in order to approach or talk to a student
with a disability. When students do interact, they are often called “teaching assistants” or
“helpers” instead of peers or friends. In most schools, students with and without disabilities do
NOT have equal access, and do NOT have the opportunities to develop positive relationships
with each other – creating school climates – lacking in respect, acceptance, and friendship.
To first address this lack of inclusion, I attempted to start a Unified Sports Program in my
district middle schools so that ALL kids could have access to a school sport. Unified Sports are a
Special Olympics Program that provide opportunities for students with and without intellectual
disabilities to participate in sports activities alongside one another. Essentially, “Unified” means
a partnership between individuals with different abilities. I set up meeting after meeting with
middle schools, coaches, district staff, and parents. I created a video that told Jacob’s story and
shared it with school staff and hundreds of middle school students. I found staff to be very
supportive, but school change really complicated. I wasn’t able to get a Unified Sports program
off the ground, but I was able to bring awareness of the need for change. My experience at the
middle schools taught me that I needed a lot more education and support to create change in
I went to Special Olympics – the top inclusion experts in the world – and found a project
advisor. My brother and I were appointed Colorado’s State Youth Activation Committee for
training and to help with state-wide inclusion projects. After a year of learning the ropes, and
getting support and funding from Special Olympics, I set out again to build inclusion within my
I was then a 10 th grader at Heritage High School, and was committed to helping my
brother have a great high school experience. I received a Special Olympics Grant and started
with a new Unified Kayaking Program. I brought the National Sports Center for the Disabled
into the school to run an innovative and successful 6-week program. It was a great sport for
Jacob and other kids with disabilities, but the school did not support a Unified program—leaving
general education students with limited access. I also received Special Olympics funding and
school approval to start a new Unified Club—or what I called a “Score A Friend Club”—for
students of ALL abilities to access and work together to build inclusion at the school. The club
was overwhelmingly welcomed and wanted by students and families, but again, the school
limited the club focus and general education student access. Because I wasn’t supported to build
a truly Unified program, I had no choice but to abandon my club plan at the school. This was the
most challenging part of the project for me. I knew I had made the right decision—standing up
for authentic inclusion—but I felt like a failure, especially because my brother no longer had a
club to join, and he was still missing friends. However, I chose to perservere.
In the summer of 2015, I went to my local recreation center and by June had kicked off a
summer Score A Friend Club. I recruited middle and high school students who came to club
meetings and participated in Unified Rock Climbing and Kickball Programs. By the end of
summer, club members wanted to start Score A Friend Clubs at their schools. I realized that the
struggles at my school gave me the gift of knowledge and experience to design a stronger and
better program. I was then ready to guide other youth leaders down a much easier and
streamlined path toward inclusion in many schools.
It was then that Score A Friend, Incorporated was born – a non-profit organization with a
Unified Board of Directors and business team. I designed Score A Friend Club curriculums and
materials to give youth leaders the tools they need to lead a club in every school—elementary
In 2014, a Girl Scouts of Colorado blog post connected me with two Gold Award
recipients wanting to start a club at their college. We met in the summer of 2014 and Score A
Friend Club at Louisiana State University kicked off with 35 members and led their first Score A
Friend Week in April of 2015. In May of 2015, they were nominated as top new club on LSU’s
Fall of 2015, my Junior year, my parents chose to move Jacob to a new school. His lack
of inclusion and “day care-like” program at our school had caused him to stop speaking, regress,
and withdraw. Front Range Christian School offered a small, supportive, and strong academic
program for Jacob. I met his new Principal in September and shared my Gold Award Project
with him. Before I knew it—I was also a new student at Front Range Christian School with the
support and encouragement to share Score A Friend and build an inclusive school.
By January of 2016, Jacob and I were part of a 30 member Score A Friend Club with
Special Olympic funding. By April of 2016, the National Sports Center for the Disabled
supported a 6-week Unified Sports Program. Our Club led Score A Friend Week and provided
inclusion training to the entire high school. Jacob and I both found a home at Front Range
Christian School, and I’m so happy to say that Jacob made great strides and met many friends.
In 2016-2017, my Senior year, my school approved a full-time Independent Study
Program for me to continue to build Score A Friend. At the school, I taught a Score A Friend
Elective Course to elementary students—educating them about inclusion and participating in
Score A Friend Week. I implemented the first ever Unified Elective Courses—Unified Sports
and Unified Tae Kwon Do. Unified Electives utilize the principles of Special Olympics Unified
Sports, where kids with different abilities work together as partners to equally achieve the
objectives of the class.
In addition, l hosted a full-school Score A Friend Week, as well as launched new Lunch Buddies
and School Events Buddies Programs. Jacob had an amazing time at our homecoming dinner and
dance with friends!
At Score A Friend Incorporated, I serve as the CEO on our Unified board. I am
consulting with numerous universities and schools interested in Score A Friend Clubs. I have
many speaking opportunities at schools and community sites, and serve on numerous state and
local committees that promote inclusion.
May of 2016, my 3-year Gold Award Project came to an amazing end. I earned my Gold
Award along with 47 other Colorado Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts of Colorado awarded me the
Stephanie A. Foot Leadership Prize, Girl Scouts of the USA awarded me the National Young
Woman of Distinction Award. And I was awarded the Colorado Youth Philanthropist of the Year
Award, the President’s Volunteer Service Award, the Centennial Youth Achievement Award,
and the Developmental Pathways Shining Star Award. In addition to the awards I received, I was
chosen by the Foundation for A Better Life to serve as a “hero” that is bringing the value of
inclusion to the world. I am currently being filmed and photographed for television commercials,
Internet videos, and billboards to promote my Score A Friend work, and to bring a message of
respect, acceptance, and opportunity for kids of ALL abilities to the world.
This fall, I am attending Colorado State University to study Business Administration and
Social Innovation and Entreprenuership. I am starting a Score A Friend Club on CSU’s campus
and want to host the first ever “Unified Generation” Inclusion Conference. I want to be an expert
in inclusion and develop school and community inclusion models for the world.