Building Relationships in the Woodgrove Community, One Person at a Time


Sophomore Brennan Haveland guides her partner through a relay race. Photo by Maya Lopez.

Woodgrove Teacher, Barbara Kabernagle has been working with special needs students for 20 years. Working with her students is not just a job to her; it is also her passion.


Kabernagle works with the special needs kids daily and helps them with everyday activities based on their IEP goals. An IEP is an individualized educational program developed to set goals for the current school year. Teachers help students with special needs students in various activities to include communication, social, academic, vocational areas, to name a few. Kabernagle’s biggest personal goal is connecting with her students.


“They inspire me. Making the connection just touches my heart. I see these guys for what they can do, not for what they can’t do. I wish people had the opportunity to spend time with them to see what they can do. They are entitled to enjoy life and to participate just like anybody else,” said Kabernagle.


According to Ms. Lisa Barcenas, who has been interacting and working with special needs kids all her life said, “They give us more than we give them.”


Kabernagle not only works with the special needs kids daily, but she is also the sponsor for the Partners Club at Woodgrove. Partners Club encourages the opportunity for students to interact with special needs kids in helping them learn, have fun, and do things they typically might not otherwise have a chance to do. This club offers many activities from a Partners Club Ball, which is a dance for the special needs kids and peers located at Loudoun Valley High School, to in school meetings and sporting events. They also recently had the pumpkin carving to work on socialization and a bowling night for the kids.


Partners Club not only impacts the special needs kids by offering various activities allowing them to interact with other students, but has also influenced their club members’ view on life, especially gratitude for what they have.


Junior Camila Cifuentes said, “It has made me more grateful. You see them and it is hard because they can’t do certain things that we take for granted, like walking. It is nice to make them feel like they can do anything.”


Students also participate in the Athlete to Athlete Club that sets up sporting events to do with the intellectual disabled children. People with intellectual disabilities come from around Loudoun County and surrounding areas to enjoy this event and to also interact with the club members participating. As a club, the members try to make these kids feel as if they can play any sport and form friendships with other students.


According to Maria Mrozowski, the sponsor of the Athlete to Athlete Club, it is wonderful to see teenagers that have initiative to make a difference to others in the community and also believes the Athlete to Athlete club has had a positive impact.


Mrozowski said, “I think it has had a positive impact on the local communities of people with Intellectual Disabilities because it gives them something to look forward to, meet some local athletic leaders, and time to be active and get some exercise. The students in Woodgrove’s Athlete to Athlete program work hard to make the individuals that come to the events feel accepted, appreciated, and successful.”


Students in the Athlete to Athlete Club enjoy spending time with the kids and work hard to make the special needs kids feel accepted, appreciated, and successful at the events hosted by this club.


“Our goal is to put a smile on the face of everyone that walks into our event and to let them enjoy themselves and have two hours where they can just have fun!” said Olivia Miller, Joint President of the Athlete to Athlete Club.


The members of this club enjoy doing all activities with the kids, especially when they are able to put a smile on their face.


Athlete to Athlete Treasurer Jameson Copeland said, “Any activity with them is fun. Whatever makes them smile and have a good time is honestly good enough for me.”


There are many foundations in the community that offer various activities for special needs kids as well.


The Faith and Family Foundation at Wheatland Farm has served Woodgrove students, local families and families worldwide since its beginning. Run by Mark and Muriel Forrest, the foundation strives to raise  awareness of special needs and disabled people in today’s society. Serving over 500 families across the globe, Wheatland Farm brings a wide variety of services for these children and their families. The foundation offers therapeutic riding, full farm festivities, a haircut salon, and a ten acre lake, bringing a unique sense of peace to many people.



Co-founder, Head of Operations at Wheatland Farm, and mother of three severely disabled children Muriel Forrest says, “Having special needs children has taught us to be better people. It has caused us to learn to put others first, to be more flexible in our plans and expectations, to live your life one day at a time, and always count your blessings. Especially in the little things.”


The Faith and Family Foundation offers various volunteer opportunities that junior twins, Cameron and Emma Gillies, have had the enjoyment of being a part of. Their activities range from helping the special needs kids ride horses to cleaning out stables, and although cleaning out stables is not the most glamorous job, they both still enjoy interacting with the people at the foundation. With volunteering Cameron Gillies has realized that special needs kids are exactly like everyone else.


Emma Gillies said, “It [helping the children] makes you more kind and thankful for what you have. Helping others is rewarding to you as well.”


Another foundation is Jill’s House, a retreat and care center for special needs located in McLean, Virginia, is a center that cares for special needs kids ages six through eighteen. This center includes a weekend retreat and activities for special needs kids and their families. Like Wheatland Farm, Jill’s House offers a wide variety of activities for these children and their families.


Many foundations in the community for special needs kids include therapeutic riding.


Therapeutic riding is offered in a wide variety of locations in our area. Sprout Therapeutic Riding, and Loudoun therapeutic riding both offer year-round therapeutic riding for special needs kids. Based in Morven Park, Loudoun Therapeutic Riding offers year round therapeutic riding in a state of the art indoor riding ring. Sprout Therapeutic Riding, based in Aldie offers very similar services, with year round riding and volunteer opportunities.


Senior Matthew Whalen, has branched outside of school to work with special needs kids. Whalen likes trying to make their day better and is amazed by how easy it is. Working with the kids has humbled Whalen and has helped him realize how problems in his life are nothing compared to what some special needs kids have to go through.


When asked what he would like to tell other people about special needs kids, Whalen said, “They [special needs kids] are no different than anyone else in this school and they should all deserve the same treatment and chances in life.”