By Emily Williams
The highest achievement a Girl Scout can tackle is the Gold Award, and Mountain Brook’s Katelyn McInerney is working toward hers with a particularly special project.
Inspired by a variety of factors in her life, McInerney has created a support group for fellow siblings of children with special needs, dubbed Special Siblings, which will host its first meeting of the new year Jan. 14 at the Homewood Public Library.
“As a sibling of a special needs child, my childhood was very different than that of my peers,” McInerney said. “Also, this past summer I volunteered at a special equestrian facility, where I met several families of special needs children, including the siblings of special needs children.”
McInerney noted that she has learned many important lessons from her sister, lessons that have empowered her and made her a better person.
Patience and compassion are tools that she has fine-tuned with help from her sibling, learning to be a more patient supporter on her sister’s bad days as well as more patient with everyone else she meets in her life.
“Also, I have learned to be compassionate,” she added. “When I look at my sister, I do not see her special needs, I see all of her amazing qualities that make her unique and wonderful, and that was the most important skill I have learned from her and one I want to help develop in the support group participants.”
Part of the group’s mission parallels the mission of the Girl Scouts. McInerney said she wants to help empower girls to be leaders and have a positive impact on their communities.
“This project emulates that mission through its goal of preventing bullying and reducing mental health stigma and its method of connecting people who weren’t previously connected,” she said.
Her biggest hurdle to jump during the planning process was the location. The meetings originally were to be held at the Red Barn, where she volunteered for equestrian courses. She later realized that the group needed a more centrally located place to meet and began contacting local libraries. Homewood responded with an offer to host the group.
She held her first meeting Nov. 12 and the group has had two meetings since; but the Jan. 14 meeting will be a little bit different, involving discussion and activities centered on the topic of coping strategies.
“My vision for the group is for it to grow as a group and beyond the group; I want each of the ‘special siblings’ to be empowered to do more for their sibling and other special needs children and to be inspired to raise awareness for disabilities,” she said.
In her journey to bring her support group from concept to creation, McInerney said another hurdle has been marketing the group and spreading the word about the group to other kids and young adults.
“The community of special needs is not especially tight-knit in Birmingham, so that is one thing this non-profit has tried to combat and eventually alter,” she said.
One of the best tools has been social media via a Special Siblings Facebook account and on Instagram @specialsiblingsbham.