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BU student reaches out to Waco's special-needs community

Sept. 30, 2003

By Erika Walter, reporter

Unlike most Baylor students, Alli Adams understands what it means to invest in people.

'Baylor students get so stuck in what makes them feel good,' Adams, a Houston senior, said. 'There comes a time when you need to give to others and not just to yourself.'

Adams has spent her years at Baylor developing relationships with Waco's adult special needs community. Whether it's at a Best Buddies party, Special Olympics or special needs Sunday school class, Adams spends much of her time surrounded by the smiling faces of her 'dearest' friends.

'I think it has [...] made me re-evaluate what service is,' Adams said. 'Now I look beyond the differences and see how many things we have in common. So many people just see the disability. I just see their differences as just being unique.'

Adams first learned about the Best Buddies program from a flier on campus. She met her buddy, Sarah Appell, at a bowling party. Three years later, their relationship continues. Sarah's mother, Martha Appell, said her daughter 'adores Alli and loves her to pieces.'

'Alli has been a light in our lives,' Martha Appell said, 'She always comes with a smile on her face and a glee in her eyes. She made a great difference in our lives because she truly loves Sarah.'

Adams said she enjoys attending First Baptist Church of Waco's Sunday school class for adults with special needs.

Adams said it is 'very important' for churches to minister to people with special needs.

'I think it's a shame most churches don't have this program,' she said. 'At First Baptist Waco, they [people with mental retardation] feel like they have a place ... The lessons are geared for adults in a way they can understand.'

Adams' passion for people with mental retardation compelled her to switch her major to special education. She said she wants to teach high school students with disabilities.

She will empower her students by teaching them the necessary skills to live more independently in a high school life skills class, she said.

For now, Adams is involved with the Arc, a local nonprofit agency that advocates for people with mental retardation.

Paige Moore, a former Baylor professor and former president of the Arc board of directors, said Adams has an outstanding reputation within the agency.

'She'll be an incredible teacher, but she'll also be a wonderful advocate and community member,' Moore said. 'She's already a professional in her work habits.'

Moore said Adams' commitment also has gained her great respect from the 'buddies' and their families.

'She's not just there to check it off a to-do list,' Moore said. 'You can tell she's out there because she has a great time doing it, and that is why they love her.'

Adams has orchestrated dances, movie nights, picnics, award banquets and bowling parties in order to fuse the Baylor and special-needs communities.