At a party thrown Tuesday in their honor, more than 400 students from the H.E.L.P. Group, who donated their time doing community service during the school year, celebrated with games, speeches and educational activities.
"Instead of receiving services they are giving them," said Thomas Komp, director of admissions and program development for H.E.L.P. "It gives our students an understanding that they have something to give back."
The H.E.L.P. Group serves children with special needs related to social and emotional development, abuse and neglect, mental retardation, autism and learning disabilities. It is part of the Festival of Youth program sponsored by the Milken Family Foundation.
Festival of Youth is a nationwide program aimed at teaching economically disadvantaged and special-needs children the value of community service, said Barbara Klein, director of the program for the Milken Family Foundation.
Since September, students from H.E.L.P. have volunteered at Habitat for Humanity, Heal the Bay, the North Hollywood Shelter and Project Angel Food, among other organizations in Los Angeles County.
"It taught me that you should help the community because you might need help from them someday," said Shakebia Lyones, 11, a student at H.E.L.P. "It should be a good and clean community, so we need to help out."
H.E.L.P. serves kindergarten-through 12th-grade students at three schools on the same Sherman Oaks campus. The separate schools, Summit View School, Village Glen Program and the New School for Child Development, address students' specific needs.
At Tuesday's celebration, the children participated in karaoke, face painting, a hole-in-one contest, making key chains and beaded jewelry, a Hula-Hoop contest and a small petting zoo.
"I am proud of each and everyone of you," H.E.L.P. Group President and Chief Executive Barbara Firestone said. "I hope that you all learned from this that, as corny as it is to say, each one of you can make a difference by going out into the community and giving."