Maryann Vinay and her students help make COTJ’s annual dance a success each year
Maryann Vinay is all about making connections. She is heavily involved in her Randolph County community as a teacher, coach and volunteer. One of Vinay’s favorite things to do is bring together her students at Wheatmore High School with the people supported at Monarch. She just completed her ninth year helping to plan Companions on the Journey’s (COTJ) annual dance where more than 120 people from the community attended.
“I always want to provide opportunities for individuals, with and without disabilities, to come together. It is a learning experience and there are a lot of people who never get outside of their box. Events like this [COTJ dance] help to show another side, an entertainment and social side, that neither group would have had the experience without it,” Vinay said.
Vinay first heard about the COTJ dance when she was a swim coach for Special Olympics. Later, while serving as a camp director at Camp Ann, a summer program for school age children and adults with developmental disabilities, she heard participants reference it again and decided to check it out. A short time later, she became a volunteer.
A few years later, Vinay became a teacher for students with severe intellectually disabilities – and started recruiting all students at her school to also serve as volunteers for the COTJ dance.
“I have the students do everything,” she jokes. “They help set up, decorate, serve food and drinks and they also get a chance to dance too. And when it’s all over they help clean up.”
Vinay said the first thing student volunteers always ask at the end of the dance is, “When is the next one?” This question motivates her to continue. She and her students also help at other dances throughout the year in and around High Point, even hosting one in November where more than 1,500 people attend. These events create a tight-knit community of people and that is something she loves about being a volunteer.
"The dances assist everyone in being more aware and to see that how much the special needs population can do. A lot of people limit them with assumptions that they can’t do things," Vinay said. "I push my students and peer helpers, I don’t want them to limit themselves or anyone else because of assumptions they have had.”