Students waved their arms in the air and sang, "Reach out and touch somebody's hand," as part of an emotional and spirited kickoff Tuesday for a yearlong program that takes children with special needs and puts them to work in community service projects.
The H.E.L.P. Group in Sherman Oaks, along with its sister campus, Summit View School in Valley Glen, celebrated their participation in the Milken Family Foundation Festival for Youth.
The festival is a nationwide program of about 30 schools that teaches economically disadvantaged and special-needs children the value of community service, said Barbara Klein, director of the program for the Milken Family Foundation.
"This type of program grabs at-risk kids and the disadvantaged who don't always participate in extra-curricular activities and gives them a chance to shine," Klein said. "It gives young people the opportunity to learn the special feeling we get with community service."
Children from H.E.L.P. and Summit View will volunteer until May at senior homes, homeless shelters, food banks, environmental activities and home building.
H.E.L.P. and Summit View serve kindergarten through 12th-grade students with special needs related to social and emotional development, abuse and neglect, mental retardation, autism and learning disabilities.
"The festival allows our young people to realize the importance, individually and collectively, of giving to the community," H.E.L.P. group president and Chief Executive Barbara Firestone said. "It's an important value to instill in our young children that they have something of value and good to give to the community."
During the celebration, as students told what their class projects would be, a high-school age student summed up the feeling of many youths at the event: "We're just happy and proud to be participating."