An old, purple stuffed alligator is passed around the room. When a new person is handed the stuffed alligator, they introduce themselves and say their favorite food. The room is filled with excited exclamations and warm conversation. Everybody laughs and talks loudly, disregarding their fear of judgement for this one lunch period.
Ohana is MVHS’ club which facilitates relationships between the members of the club and the Ohana buddies, who are students with special needs. It held its first meeting of the year on Sept. 20. After the introduction game, the students warmed up to one another very quickly and were completely engaged in the activities, creating a welcoming atmosphere.
Senior and club president Prachi Gupta explains that this welcoming environment is her favorite part about the club. Gupta explains that at MVHS, it can be easy to get caught up in stress and grades. Ohana has always been her safe place, temporarily offering her a break from the overwhelming pressure.
“MVHS can be a very competitive environment. Sometimes, it can be judgmental in a competitive sense and in another other way,” Gupta said. “Ohana is just a place where you can come in, and everyone is just there and so accepting of each other. It’s always inspiring. You build these relationships. I think it’s a club where you can really have fun.”
Similar to Gupta, sophomore Nandini Saldi explains that the aspect of the club which most appeals to her is the friendly environment. Saldi joined the club last year to try it out and immediately noticed the unique community-spirit. Since then, Ohana has become a safe place for her.
“I like the fact that we are all part of a community. It makes me feel very welcome,” Saldi said. “I really want to have a good high school experience, and Ohana gives me a lot of opportunities to meet new and different people. Ohana’s a great club because it offers you these opportunities.”
During the meeting, members wrote down their goals on a piece of paper, which will be returned to them later in the school year so they can reflect on their progress — not only as Ohana members but also as individuals people. Gupta explains that she loves this tradition as it allows people to assess themselves and the activity catalyzes self-improvement.
“[In the letters we say] where we want to see ourselves in a few months,” Gupta said. “We close these letters up until the end of the year and we look at them again and see how we’ve grown or changed, or maybe even stayed the same. It’s nice to see how we’ve come and how we have a record of that.”
Gupta reveals that the club has many exciting events planned for the school year. The officer’s central goal for this school year is to have a new, innovative activity at every meeting. The officers have already brainstormed many craft activities for the meetings and have also planned some bigger events.
“Every year, there is a buddy ball, where we have a dance with all the students with special needs and the Ohana members,” Gupta said. “Everyone’s invited. It’s a great place to integrate everyone and every different community.”
Saldi reflects on some of her favorite activities that the club had done in the past, which particularly stood out to her and she would like to repeat this year.
“I loved making slime [last year], it was one of the things that was super fun,” Saldi said. “We also had this car rowing activity where the robotics team came and they showed us how car weight affects how fast a car goes and we had races with cars.”
Gupta explains that the club teaches essential life lessons and has the potential to really improve MVHS. She believes that the community-spirit present in Ohana can transfer to the rest of the school, which is why she believes that Ohana has unfulfilled potential.
“We have some ideas on growing the club itself,” Gupta said. “Even though we’re always limited to space, we really feel like Ohana could be a bigger club, and a bigger part of MVHS, so we have some ideas on how to expand the club.”
Both Gupta and Saldi agree that Ohana has helped them become more in touch with their community and build quality relationships with others, who they might not have interacted with if it weren’t for Ohana.
“Ohana’s main message is that everybody is a part of the community and I’ve seen this community-spirit in Ohana,” SaIdi said. “I believe that it’s possible for that community feeling to spread to the rest of MVHS.”