Leading by Example by Following her Heart 4

Brentwood Academy’s Avery Billington makes a difference 
with special needs children.

To say Avery Billington has a lot going on is an understatement. The Brentwood Academy senior runs track, is captain of the girls’ soccer team, is athletic editor of the yearbook and is on the student leadership team, to name just a few activities. Yet, Avery still finds time for the pursuit dearest to her heart: volunteering with special needs children and teens.

Her kinship with special needs children began when Avery was in kindergarten. Her best friend had Down syndrome. That compassion and love blossomed as Avery got older and began helping with the son of a family friend with special needs.

Today she volunteers at her church accompanying a special needs child to Sunday School as a buddy. She also takes part in rEcess, a monthly night out for parents of children with disabilities and their siblings. In addition, she volunteers with teens and young adults with disabilities as a buddy through Young Life Capernaum, a weekly club where they have dinner, bible study and hang out.

When asked what is most rewarding about her volunteer work, Avery notes, “Just the relationships I’ve built with the kids and their families. They are so fun. Being able to give the young kids a lot of attention, to hear about the day-to-day of the older kids and just sharing in all their lives is super cool.”

How does she fit it all in? Avery says she takes it day-by-day, planning everything out on her weekly calendar and then going from there.

It’s an approach that has clearly been successful. Tom Cox, Assistant Coach Boys and Girls Upper School Soccer with Brentwood Academy says, “Avery epitomizes the very qualities we strive to instill. She excels as a student, taking on a vigorous schedule with several honors level classes, and she stands out as a conscientious student who works well with her peers.  As a captain of our girls’ soccer team, she sets a positive tone and exemplifies everything a teammate should be.”

He goes on to say, “Avery’s deep spiritual beliefs are evident both in her kindness to others and in the wise choices she makes as she lives her life.” And it’s those beliefs that are leading Avery to continue to volunteer in the special needs community beyond high school. Although she hasn’t yet decided on a college major, she plans to stay actively involved in programs for children and teens with disabilities.

Avery hopes she brings as much to these kids as they bring to her, “Giving them friendship with someone their age that cares about them, wants to know about their lives, can take them to do stuff and have a really good relationship that they can count on, that’s why I show up.”

She encourages others to volunteer as well. “Not everyone is comfortable with special needs and I get that. But when you treat them like you do your own friends it’s so cool. In terms of being different, they are, but they aren’t. They’re not intimidating. These kids like the same things, want to do the same things and have fun just like you. You just need to be their friend and care about their lives and it makes such a difference.”

That’s a message we should all take to heart and a wisdom that will carry Avery Billington very far in life.