Normally, Jenny Lee practically hums with cheerfulness and energy.
It’s her default setting as the teacher in charge of the Wild Dream Team special education classroom at State College Area High School.
These days, however, she has the dial cranked up a few notches.
The big day is coming together, piece by piece. Each new one sends her even higher.
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She just can’t wait for March 30.
“I’m so excited that it makes me shiver,” she said.
For almost a year and a half, Lee and the school’s Best Buddies chapter have been planning a fundraiser on the date — but not any old kind.
Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating one-on-one friendships, employment opportunities and personal growth for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
At State High, Best Buddies pairs special education students with mainstream classmates. Together, chapter members visit restaurants, go bowling, see movies, go to dances — everyday fun stuff.
Now they’re teaming for a worthy cause.
Their Hoops for Hope wheelchair basketball exhibition, from noon to 3 p.m. in the school’s North Building gym, will benefit the Penn State Wounded Warriors Fund.
Two games are scheduled. The first will feature the Penn State Ability Athletics wheelchair basketball team in an intrasquad scrimmage.
After a halftime show, the Penn State players will take on a squad of State High teachers trying their hand at wheeling around the court.
“We could very easily be doing a fundraiser for Best Buddies,” said senior Margee Lenze, chapter president, noting that members can’t wait either after months of anticipation. “That’s all they’re talking about lately.”
Lee said the event will be the chapter’s biggest ever — and not just because it involves widespread community support.
“Like Margee said, the kids could be keeping this money for themselves,” Lee said. “But as a group, they’ve chosen to make it a service project.”
The idea first formed last May after Sgt. Adam Hartswick, a State High graduate, lost his legs to an IED bomb in Afghanistan while serving as an Army combat medic. Hartswick is also a Wounded Warriors member.
Moved by his story, Lee and her fellow chapter adviser, chemistry teacher Beth Keim, set the ball in motion.
They and State High Athletic Director Peg Pennypacker met with Teri Jordan, Penn State’s disability recreation programs coordinator and the Ability Athletics team coach. Some of Jordan’s players are Wounded Warriors.
Out of the meeting came a plan to help the Wounded Warriors Project while raising awareness of its impact and showcasing paraplegic athletes.
“We sat there and said, ‘Hmm, this could be big,’ ” Lee said.
They were right.
Lee, Keim and company formed partnerships left and right as they marshaled support for the exhibition.
One key gift came from Dr. James Martin and Dr. Paul Suhey, of Martin & Suhey Orthopedics, in State College. The doctors donated the cost of 250 green Hoops for Hope T-shirts, which the chapter is selling for $10 each.
Local businesses have responded as well, donating Chinese food and pizza for the concession stand, themed basket items for silent auctions and checks for the cause.
Beforehand, parent support groups and the Penn State Athletes Helping Athletes club will join Best Buddies students in setting up. After three students sing the national anthem, parent volunteers will keep the time, work the scoreboard and handle the announcing.
Parents also are contributing concession snacks and drinks.
At halftime, the Centre County Down Syndrome Society’s For Good drama troupe, which stages musicals starring performers with Down syndrome, will perform. So will cheerleaders on the CheerLink team, part of LifeLink PSU, a growth program for State High special needs students ages 18-21 that’s jointly run by the State College Area School District and Penn State.
Afterward, Boy Scouts from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in State College will lead the clean-up.
“Pretty much any way we could network, we networked to get the word out,” Lee said.
Organizers didn’t forget their own backyard.
State High teachers and students stepped up to help. In addition to programs, posters and banners, technology teacher Troy Alesi and the school print shop are making promotional stickers to go on fliers from The Arc national organization for people with disabilities.
The fliers, highlighting Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in March, will be placed in local church bulletins a week before the benefit fundraiser.
Also at State High, building construction teacher Tom Sallade agreed to create a wooden sign for the exhibition entrance. Diane Swauger, the director of the school’s fitness center, is coordinating T-shirt sales with sports teams and the student body in general. Among student contributions, the State High Key Club gave a donation.
“The response has been incredible,” Lee said.
Admission to the games will be free, though organizers are requesting a $5 donation per person.
For Lee and others who help special needs students and adults, March is about celebrating a can-do spirit, showing the community that intellectual and developmental disabilities can’t hold people back.
Best Buddies students can hold their heads high as living proof. They’re trying to give to those who have given plenty.
“These are inspirational kids,” Lee said. “They are part of your community. They will be your neighbors. And they have value to our community.”