Student-Led Extravaganza Ensures all Feel the Love

On the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, the cafeteria of Earle C. Davis Primary School in North East, Pennsylvania, was abuzz with activity. In one corner, guests were getting their faces painted. Across the room, young people were building Valentine’s Day butterflies out of construction paper and toilet paper rolls.

Morgan Yelverton, a first-year student at Penn State Behrend, moved throughout the cafeteria, helping to set up and monitor activities. She could not help but smile.

This was the first Valentine’s Day Extravaganza she had planned outside of her hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina, and it was everything she had hoped it would be.

“I have been planning this since August. I knew I was going to do it once I came to Behrend,” Yelverton said at the time. “I just love seeing people come in, have fun, and have a chance to be themselves.”

With the help of Karen Rizzo, assistant professor of special education, and her classmates, Yelverton planned the Valentine’s Day Extravaganza as part of a project for RHS 100 Culture of Disability, a course that is part of her minor in special education. It was a free, inclusive community event geared toward young people and their families. Activities were intended to foster awareness of the culture of disability while strengthening acceptance and celebration of individual differences. More than 100 young people from around the Erie region attended.

The carnival-type event featured games designed for inclusion. In one activity, participants cast a rod for construction paper fish. In another, Heart Target, they threw bean bags at targets scattered on the ground.

“Our main objective was for everyone to be able to participate. From the inviting flyer to the universally-designed activities, we hoped to maximize both access and interest of all who attended the event,”

Yelverton said. “Activities like the Valentine’s Day Extravaganza are important for youth with and without disabilities for creating a culture that positively recognizes our unique characteristics and contributions,” Rizzo added. Sponsors donated food and materials, and more than twenty-five Penn State Behrend students volunteered their time to help run the events. Many more students from various clubs and organizations helped create the activities. Yelverton, who is enrolled in the pre-optometry program at Penn State Behrend, is minoring in special education.

“I’ve always wanted to be an optometrist, and I am very passionate in developing my skills to support the needs of individuals with disabilities,” she said.