Sarah Cronk’s older brother Charlie was born with a disability that inhibits his understanding of social cues. This made high school tough; Charlie was often left out at school and had trouble making friends. One day, Jared, a popular student, sat with him at lunch and invited him to join the swim team. From that day forward, Charlie’s high school experience was dramatically different.
Jared’s simple act of kindness inspired Sarah to find a way to positively impact the lives of other students like her brother, who felt excluded in high school.
“It was through watching the improbable friendship between Charlie and Jared that I first understood the power that teens possess to impact one another’s lives,” Sarah said.
In 2008, she created the first high school cheerleading squad in the United States that included children with disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to autism. Five years and 11 seasons later, the Spartan Sparkles are still cheering alongside the varsity cheerleading squad at home football and basketball games.
But Sarah didn’t stop there. She founded The Sparkle Effect to empower other teens to start inclusive cheerleading and dance teams at their own schools. Today, The Sparkle Effect has generated 108 inclusive teams in 26 states.
The Sparkle Effect’s 100th team started last June at Mercer Island High School in Washington, USA, run by cheer coach Traci Brandon. So far, the team has performed in Mercer Island’s homecoming parade, summer celebration parade, and their school’s homecoming football game. They plan to march in many more parades this year around Washington.
See the team performing at the homecoming parade, and read Sarah’s thoughts on The Sparkle Effect and how it continues to transform young lives:
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