Mike Horan | The Michigan Catholic
Walled Lake — Annette Liike just wanted her son to be included.
She knew a mainstream school classroom wasn’t the right place for him.
The Walled Lake Schools wanted to place him in a cognitively impaired classroom 30 minutes away from the Liike home.
But when Liike heard about St. William Catholic School, a place that accepts special needs children as regular students, she not only discovered a school for her son John, who was born with Down syndrome — she found a home for her and her sons.
“John is so welcomed at this building and in the Walled Lake community,” Liike said. “Everyone is welcoming and supportive. All the groups at St. William come together in support and help us out and have been very welcoming to all of the special needs kids.
“It makes us feel great and very thankful.”
After John’s first year of school, Liike and other members of St. William School created Support Our Unique Learners (SOUL), an organization dedicated to the education of children with special needs.
In an effort to raise money, the school hosted its first “Strides for SOUL” event, a 5k run/walk on Aug. 6, at the school.
“We’re raising money so we can provide for all the kids with special needs,” Liike said. “Sometimes they need extra learning materials, occupational therapy, speech therapy…whatever their needs are, and each kid is different. Some kids have very few needs and some have a lot of needs, so that way we can pay for all those things they may need.”
Before the race began, Don McDonald, from the Button’s Golf Invitational donated $1,000 to SOUL.
“They need all the help they can get,” McDonald said. “One of the chair members for the Buttons Invitational is very active in St. William and decided (since) we put all this money elsewhere, lets bring it local. This will help them achieve their goal and I think every year this will get bigger and better.”
The run started at 10 a.m. on a track behind St. William. The runners and walkers were off with a gunshot, and followed the designated course that ended back at St. William. During the adult race, children under the age of 13 also participated in their own one-mile race.
“It was awesome,” Linda Jackson, principal of St. William said. “We pulled in about 225 participants running in ages from young children to senior citizens — a lot of people from the St. William Community, a lot of people who have connects with St. William and a lot of people from outside. It was awesome. We had great sponsorships. So it was all for a great cause for our unique learners here at St. William.”
Jacob Burt was the first to finish the 5k race with a time of 17 minutes and 46 seconds.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” Burt said. “I had my mom, my dad, my brother — they all came out for this cause.”
Seeing that the entry fee was $25, he thought to himself the more people that joined, the better.
“I’ll definitely do it again next year and try to get more of my friends to come out and support this cause,” he said.
After all the participants finished, the school’s Dad’s Club sold food and drinks in St. William’s Activity Center, with all proceeds being donated to SOUL.
To keep special needs children in St. William, funding is needed either through private donations, grants or other resources, according to Jackson, and it doesn’t come at a cheap price.
“We need anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 a year in order to provide what we need for these children in a regular educational setting,” Jackson said. “In order for them to be successful, we need to raise about that much money each year.”
According to Liike, before the event ended and the proceeds from the food from the Dad’s Club were counted, the Stride for SOUL 5k run/walk had collected $6,000 in its first year of existence.
But the donations weren’t the only thing they gained.
“It just brings everybody together,” said Jackson. “It gets more people to understand what were doing and why were doing it.”