Kaleb Cook Named Iowa Youth Volunteer of 2018 Finalist
Kaleb Cook, 18, of Robins, has been named one of Iowa’s top two youth volunteers of 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As a state honoree, Cook will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, D.C., where he will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2018.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 23rd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Cook, a senior at Linn-Mar High School, created an organization that facilitates inclusive dance therapy for people with special needs, and has raised thousands of dollars for a year-round camp for people with disabilities. After a girl with Down syndrome became Kaleb’s best friend in kindergarten, he began to notice that “people were treating her differently because of her disability,” he said. But “our friendship allowed me to learn that we are more alike than different. This opened my eyes to a whole world full of social issues surrounding the population that has special needs.”
Cook started volunteering for organizations that promote inclusion and equality for special needs individuals, such as Special Olympics, Best Buddies and Camp Courageous. While volunteering at the camp, he attended a dance party and was struck by how easy it was for everyone to participate, regardless of disability. Afterward, he researched dance therapy, recruited a team of fellow high school students, and began teaching dance classes in special education classrooms in several school districts. Then, he and his team organized their own dance party, which raised $3,000 for Camp Courageous. Most recently, Cook has been working with professional dance teachers to develop a 10-lesson online dance therapy curriculum that could be used by students with special needs across the country. “I have seen firsthand that individuals’ disabilities need not hold them back,” he said. “A majority simply are not given the opportunity they deserve.”