Alive East Bay Magazine

The Lunch Bunch

Through my in-home beauty services business, I provided pedicure services for Jane’s 16th birthday celebration that included her closest friends. It was during this celebration that I became acquainted with Jane’s mother Kelly Meek and a group of inspirational teenagers as they shared the history of their friendship with Jane. This strong tie between them wasn’t just about showing up to a friend’s birthday but showing up for her life to face any mountains right alongside their best friend they have known since 2nd grade. It was that day that I knew I had to write about these beautiful human beings. They exemplify the true meaning of “It Takes A Village” as their love and loyalty continues to surround their friend, helping her to thrive within a family that isn’t just blood-related, but also love-related.

Never mistake someone who is in a wheelchair and needs assistance doing daily tasks as someone who is weak. If you currently have a stereotype about anyone diagnosed with special needs, then you need to meet Jane Coggins. This driven, unique and positive young lady wakes up every morning excited about her day. Her talent with digital animation through the assistance of her communication devices has her focused on pursuing animation courses. Persevering through any challenge, she matches the vision board that hangs in her bedroom with persistent action and, with the help of her mother Kelly, has recently contacted a media company for a job in the animation field.

Diagnosed with “SMA” which stands for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, her voluntary muscles do not receive the messages of the nerve cells (motor neurons) of her spinal cord. There are different levels of muscular limitation based on what age the onset of SMA occurs. The earlier the onset, the more affected the individual. Jane was diagnosed at 10 months old and receives 24-hour assistance. Do not dismay (fiery and creative Jane doesn’t, so why should we?) because the village surrounding her provides not only assistance with basic needs but with friendships where the connections run deep.

The first connection for Jane began with her friend Raquel, in kindergarten. Fast forward to 2nd grade at Buena Vista Elementary in Walnut Creek, California, through the inclusion focus within educational settings, children from mainstream classes were asked if they would like to partner up with individuals in the special needs’ classes

It was this blessed connection that formed “The Lunch Bunch” and added to Jane’s friend list was Madi, Gabi, Alisa, Kathryn and Amelia. These seven musketeers will show anyone a thing or two about never putting a person of any age or “disability” into a box. If you are ever worried about the future of our world, the teenagers that will soon take the paths provided for them along with paving new ones, please refer to this article as many times as needed. The driven, devoted and compassionate actions of this group spark the light of hope.

For example, Amelia started a bracelet fundraiser when they were all in 7th grade to help raise funds for a hot tub that provided physical therapy for Jane. Titled “Come Together for Jane,” Amelia and the rest of the Lunch Bunch raised $1000.00 selling the bracelets at school and in their neighborhood. Gabi dedicated a whole page of their school’s yearbook to share Jane’s story. They wrote a letter and obtained 300 signatures to petition the Acalanes Unified High School District to provide appropriate education as Jane transitioned from 8th grade into high school. This year they will all take part in the “Walk-n-Roll” fundraiser to help raise awareness and research funds for SMA. They all show up through major efforts but, most importantly, they all show up for Jane daily and keep her a part of their daily lives—hanging out, holidays, trick or treating, and birthday celebrations, to name a few.

As a mom who sees these displays of light towards her daughter while also looking within, Kelly expresses her gratitude for growing up in the Walnut Creek community. Being a parent who appreciates all that life offers, she practices Reiki and is active in the “Yoga Works” community, and even conducted a fundraiser called “Yoga From the Heart for Jane.”

Sitting down with the “Lunch Bunch” gives one a new perspective—one where you realize there are selfless people everywhere willing to encircle others with emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual support. But you won’t be “sitting” for long, as this group will pull you back up in so many wonderful ways.

So, as they prepare for the “Walk-n-Roll” fundraiser walk on August 24th at Kennedy Grove in El Sobrante, California, in an event benefitting SMA research and treatment, you’ll see a group of women who don’t just sit with a friend, they hold her hand as they all walk this thing called life—a good life indeed, with the “Lunch Bunch.”

For more information about the Walk-n-Roll, Cure SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) contact Cure SMA at http://events.curesma.org/norcalwalk, or call 800.886.1762, or email info@curesma.org

Stefanie Boggs-Johnson is the author of “I See You, Little Naomi” and “I See You, Little Andrew.” Her educational children’s books promote special needs awareness and compassion. She is also a licensed cosmetologist and owner of For Every Season, a mobile beauty service for the special needs community. For more information visit ForEverySeasonServices.com

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