For nearly seven years of his education, Jacob Greichen was isolated. Beginning in sixth grade, Jacob, who has an autism spectrum disorder, had been moved into special education classes located in the basement of the school.
Meanwhile, his twin sister, Sarah Greichen, and all of their friends continued to learn in a typical public-school setting. By his junior year of high school, Jacob had become profoundly unsettled in his new educational environment and had not spoken for two years.
Sarah remembered seeing how distraught Jacob had become.
“When we were 13 years old, Jacob came home crying saying, ‘I don’t have any friends, why don’t I have any friends?’” Sarah recalled. “That was the moment when I decided that I wanted to do something and make a difference in his life.”
For 13-year-old Sarah, what started as a project to complete her Girl Scout Gold Award transformed into something larger: she founded the nonprofit Score A Friend. Her organization has now been operating for nearly eight years working to create opportunities of inclusion and friendship for people of all abilities.
Sarah’s Story Featured on Today with Hoda & Jenna
Starting a nonprofit is daunting to even an experienced businessperson, nonetheless a middle school student.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Sarah said.
Despite the uncertainty lying ahead, Sarah, now a Junior in the College of Business, persevered and continued building Score A Friend. Even as her organization was beginning to take shape, Jacob’s educational situation was taking its toll. He would retreat to his room immediately after arriving home from school, refusing to speak to anyone and preferring solitude.
“It was extremely hard to watch,” Sarah said. “It got to the point where my parents took him out of school and home-schooled him for five months.”
During the Greichen twins’ junior year of high school, their family found Jacob a school that valued inclusivity and was more willing to work with students of all abilities. The principal of the school took an interest in Sarah’s nonprofit.
“One of the primary roots of discrimination, segregation and isolation is a fear of difference.” -Sarah Greichen
He persuaded Sarah to join Jacob at his new school, and to start integrating Score A Friend’s programs there. She started an after-school Score A Friend club, hoping to create the inclusive environment she envisioned when founding the organization.
Sarah’s club was a hit.
By the end of the school year, the club had grown to 35 members, who ran awareness weeks and introduced a variety of inclusive programs available to students of all abilities, including sports and taekwondo. The club’s success and the school’s enlightened attitudes toward people with disabilities proved to Sarah that her vision of an inclusive society was not a pipe dream, but rather an attainable reality.
“The teachers became more open to having students of all abilities within their classroom,” Sarah said. “It was huge.”
In less than a year and with the help of Score A Friend’s programs, Jacob began to feel less isolated and started speaking again. The progress he has made thus far is quite evident to his sister.
“[Jacob] is definitely happier now, he always has a smile on his face,” Sarah said. “Our favorite thing to do together is play Mario Kart. He beats me every time, which hurts, but it’s OK.”
Making a Difference
In the process of developing Score A Friend, Sarah earned numerous accolades, including the National Young Woman of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts of the USA, and the Youth Philanthropist of the Year Award. That recognition enabled her to her travel across the state sharing her and Jacob’s story.
The twins also met the president of the Foundation for a Better Life, the inspirational nonprofit that creates public service campaigns encouraging positive social values such as honesty, caring, and optimism. He approached the Greichens with an opportunity to star in a television commercial filmed at Red Rocks.
“It was the craziest experience of our lives! This guy called and asked, ‘Do you want to go to a Red Rocks concert tomorrow?’ And we said ‘Um, yes!’”
The TV commercial campaign has now been viewed over 105 million times.
Score A Friend now operates 18 clubs and projects in five different states – with its sights set on expanding across the country – providing inclusion training in schools, companies and to individuals. Sarah serves as the CEO, where she oversees every program as well as leading Score A Friend’s 40 members. The nonprofit specializes in educating the public regarding people with disabilities, the problems they face and how inclusion can change their life.
“We have found one of the primary roots of discrimination, segregation and isolation is a fear of difference,” Sarah explained. “A lot of people fear human difference, especially if they didn’t grow up around it.”
In the long run, Sarah is working on growing Score A Friend and hopes to get involved in making changes in the public policies surrounding inclusion in schools and organizations. For Jacob, the goal is continued progress in hope of earning a job in the bakery of a child-care center.
“[Jacob] loves baking and is great with kids!” Sarah proudly relayed.
Despite already having received numerous accolades and shouldering a heavy workload, Sarah Greichen remains inspired to continue pushing forward.
“Jacob is the one who keeps me going. Sometimes he’ll come up to me after I come home, give me a big kiss on the cheek, and go ‘I’m so proud of you!’” she said. “Remembering there are so many Jacobs out there who have struggled just as much as he has and trying to change that is my goal.
“Especially as twins, you want everything to be as equal as it can be.”