How A Cheerleading Squad Is Changing The Lives Of Disabled Kids

The kids weren’t so much bullied as they were ignored

That was the revelation that led Sarah Cronk to make a change in her community. Back in 2008, when she was just regular 15-year-old student and cheerleader, Cronk saw how students with disabilities were systematically being excluded from school activities.

Cronk told the Des Moines Register that these students were “walking through the hallways without a single person looking at them or smiling at them.”

She decided to do something about that, although it’s doubtful she could have predicted how much of a difference she would go on to make.

The Sparkle Effect, a program Cronk founded, aims to create an inclusive environment that changes lives by fostering friendly relationships between typically functioning kids and kids with disabilities. The Des Moines Register reports that Cronk, now 23, did not want to create a team of solely disabled students, as some other programs had done.

Rather, she wanted to purposefully mix kids of all abilities – to build real relationships across differences.

“We as a society have decided that segregation is not OK anymore and yet there are still organizations creating separate programs just for kids with disabilities,” Cronk told the Des Moines Register.

“If we aren’t crossing social boundaries, can we really say we’re being as inclusive as possible?” she continued. “If we aren’t including people from all walks of life in our activities, can we really say we’re as inclusive as possible?”

Inclusion changes lives, Cronk added, accentuating the changes.

And now her mission has paid off in big ways, as Cronk has gone on to help found more than 168 “Sparkle” squads in 29 states.

And interest has only continued to grow – as well as the friendships.

Head over to the Des Moines Register for the full feature story and to learn more about how the struggle of Cronk’s older brother first inspired her to create this movement.