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Julianne Merguie

Community Connections helps children with and without disabilities

Julianne Merguie volunteers with the ACTS Jr. program as part of Community Connections, where she helps children with and without disabilities interact and feel more comfortable while learning about the performing arts.

Merguie, 14, says her mom, Lisa Merguie, an occupational therapist with Pediatrics Plus, a Community Connections sponsor, got her involved with the program when she was about 6 or 7.

“It’s important not to label them,” she says. “They can do so much more than you think.”

She says she gradually got more involved. Now an ACTS Jr. leader, Merguie says the kids are given a topic and while they work through various activities, she ensures everyone gets the chance to participate.

She says this program offers kids with disabilities a “place to shine.”

“It’s a safe environment for them,” she says. “It’s great to see them happy.”

Merguie’s older brother, Alex, has Asperger’s syndrome, and she says growing up with him has helped her understand how to work with kids with similar disorders. Through volunteering, Merguie says she has learned how to interact with people and to “always give people a chance.”

“It’s important not to label them,” she says. “They can do so much more than you think.”

What’s most rewarding, she says, is when one of the kids comes up to her and says “thank you” and is excited about the program. She says she has had great bonding experiences with kids from the group.

A ninth-grader at Conway Christian High School, Merguie says she likes volunteering as much as she can when schoolwork doesn’t interfere. She says she has recently become interested in psychology and enjoys her history and English classes most.

Last summer, she also volunteered at Camp Aldersgate, working with children with autism.

“You have to be the one to set an example,” by volunteering, she says. “You can’t rely on others to do it. It’s your duty.”

Community Connections

Community Connections is a nonprofit based in Conway that provides extracurricular activities for children with developmental disabilities and delays.

Founded in 2005, the organization’s goal is to empower and provide a support network for children and families to maximize the quality of life and potential of children and young adults affected by these disorders. Often children with special needs have little opportunity for extracurricular activities because of school commitments and continued treatments and therapies.

Services and programs available through Community Connections include First Tee Golf, ICAN! Dance, Autism Resource Center of Arkansas, Martial Arts, Showstoppers Cheerleading, The Dyslexia Project, TOP Soccer, ACTS Jr. and many more.

More than 500 children in central Arkansas are served each year, says director Courtney Leach.

Community Connections’ biggest night of the year, A Royal Night Out, is set for Nov. 9 at Next Level Events in Little Rock, says Leach. The event features a children’s panel, slideshows, videos and a live and silent auction.

“This is our key evening to raise awareness and the majority of all funds it takes to run our programs for the following calendar year,” she says.

For more information, visit

Erica Sweeney

Guest writer Erica Sweeney is a freelance writer and editor based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her work has been published at, Arkansas Business and Arkansas Times.

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