A senior at Hayes High School was recently nominated for the Outstanding Peer Mentor award from the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities (DCBDD).
On March 15, the board announced that Mackenzie Collett, a senior at Hayes and the student member on the Delaware City Schools Board of Education, was the latest nominee in their ongoing “Lifetime of Giving” awards, which celebrates “outstanding people in our community.”
Collett was nominated for the Outstanding Peer Mentor category by Diane Godfrey, based on her work as a peer mentor for Godfrey’s daughter, Katie, who is a student in the transition room at Hayes.
“Peer mentors apply to volunteer to be role models, both academically and socially, during their study hall classes,” Godfrey said. “Katie and her friends need one-on-one support and encouragement with their academics. Our kids need positive social role models for the challenging socially acceptable behaviors. Mackenzie does so much more.”
Godfrey said when COVID-19 shut down schools, Collett organized a social group on Zoom every Monday for transition room students.
“Our kids could socialize and feel connected,” Godfrey said. “Katie loves to Facetime Mackenzie, and she always talks and makes Katie laugh. She organizes summer pool parties, cookouts, attends other transition room student parties, and picks up the girls for ice cream. Mackenzie even invited our girls to be in her senior pictures with her.”
Godfrey said she nominated Collett because she’s “the definition of a leader,” and she was glad to see Collett get the nomination.
“She treats our children with such respect and love,” Godfrey said. “She brings the students’ perspective to the Delaware school board … all with a humble heart. I’m so happy that Mackenzie’s selfless dedication to the students of DHS is being recognized. Not only is she a positive role model for Katie, but all the students both inside transition room and the general student body.”
Collett said she has been working with the disability community her entire life.
“It started young as my Uncle Ronnie had Down syndrome, and in second grade, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability,” Collett said. “Through the support of my parents, teachers, and tutor, I was able to become an advocate for myself, and I found a passion for helping to advocate for others. Yet, I knew that to truly be an effective advocate, I could not just be a voice for others; I had to also work to provide them with the skills they needed to be able to advocate for themselves.”
Collett said that’s why she began peer mentoring during her freshman year at Hayes.
“It started out as me going into the transition room, a special education classroom in which students with disabilities ranging from severe autism to Down syndrome, learn traditional subjects and gain real-life work experience, one period a day,” Collett said. “By sophomore year, I was in there for a period as well as during lunch, and before and after school. In the classroom I have had the opportunity to work with the students on everything from counting money and reading, to interacting appropriately with others and interviewing for jobs. And while for many, the skills we work on may seem rudimentary, they open up doors for the students as they make them more independent, employable, and confident in who they are.”
Collett said being part of the transition room family has always meant more to her than just another period or two in a school day.
“It’s going to pick up Nathalie, Remi, and Kaite to go get ice cream, have singalongs in the car, and swim almost every day all summer,” Collett said. “It’s been getting to take Kaden to see the trains, telling jokes with Lorin, and talking about boys with Bailey. For my senior photos, I chose to have them in my photos because they truly have been the most influential people in my life over the past four years, and I know they will continue to be.”
Collett said between her sophomore and junior years, she became a volunteer coach for the Delaware County Special Olympics golf Tteam and a unified player.
“I have been doing it ever since, and I have created a family there as well,” she said. “Seeing how much love the athletes have for the sport and their excitement every time they get to step on to the course never gets old.”
Collett added she’s honored to be recognized and nominated by the DCBDD.
“It is an incredible honor to be nominated for such a meaningful distinction as the ‘Lifetime of Giving’ award,” Collett said. “But, I can easily say that being able to spend the last four years of my life with my transition classroom family and the last two with my Special Olympics crew, are the greatest honors that I could ever have.”
Anne Flanery, PR and community education manager for DCBDD, said the board is thankful for Collett and peer mentors like her.
“During the pandemic, Mackenzie was a bright spot for several of the people we serve,” Flanery said. “She took time to check in, host virtual social hours, and be a presence in their lives during a difficult time. We commend Mackenzie for her incredible servant leadership at such a young age.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.