By Mikala McCurry
Stacy Varner, an educator and special needs advocate, has a passion for helping individuals with disabilities. Born and raised in Cleveland, OH, she moved to Montgomery, AL in 1990 to earn both a bachelors and masters degree in special education.
With more than two decades of experience in special education, Varner launched the STAAR Program in 2018.
Social Skills, Transition, Academic Achievement, and Readiness (STAAR) Program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that supports individuals with disabilities between the ages of 10-22 to help them transition into life after high school.
Before creating STAAR, Varner was the department head and special education facilitator at Park Crossing High School.
“I asked if there was a way we could work with kids to help bridge the gap between where they were and where they needed to be,” Varner explained. “They were coming to us in the 9th grade not remembering their multiplication and not knowing how to read fluently. If we could keep them a little longer, we could help them more.”
The educational laws in place do not afford schools that option, so Varner said the Lord led her to do it. In June of 2018, Varner hosted her first Summer Enrichment Camp for the STAAR Program.
Varner created STAAR to teach individuals with disabilities how to live independently or semi-independently.
“We often forget about the individuals with disabilities and what happens to them after their caregiver passes,” she said. “You rarely see them in school, but they are there and in the community,” she said.
STAAR currently has four programs: Date Night, Transition Enrichment Camp, STEM camp, and Mini-Soft Skills Camp.
Date Night allows students to build social skills in a group setting and gives caregivers a night off. Transition Enrichment Camp helps students with transitional skills in a camp setting. The STEM camp allows students to work on technological skills and basic engineering. The Mini-Soft Skills Camp is an 18-hour course that teaches occupational and life skills, such as job readiness, financial literacy, and sexual education.
Since its inception. The STAAR program has seen great success.
“We’ve had 32 kids come through our programs; of those, four have jobs, one is trying to get an apartment, another is driving, and we’re still working with 18 of them,” Varner said.
Varner hopes each individual who goes through the program will be able to make a positive impact in the world.
“STAARs – when we show up, the world gets a little bit brighter.”
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