When Rachael DeVall, senior at West Hall High School, was named the Georgia 2020 Unified Partner of the Year at the state Special Olympics, she was speechless.
She tried to laugh to cover up her tears, but DeVall said she couldn’t help but swell with emotion.
For seven years, she has volunteered with the Special Olympics Georgia, and as a unified partner, she played sports alongside dozens of kids and teenagers with special needs.
“It was a huge honor that I will never forget,” she said.
DeVall’s passion for helping those with disabilities sparked as early as elementary school. She grew up with two cousins who have special needs and started helping with the local Special Olympics.
Class of 2020
The Times puts together this special senior recognition each year, highlighting a few standout stories from our local seniors, but this year we’ve added graduation lists from our local schools in an effort to honor as many graduates as we can. We hope you’re inspired by these stories and join us in celebrating the class of 2020. You can view these stories online as well as upcoming photo coverage of this year's graduation ceremonies.
During December of her senior year, DeVall worked with another student to found and raise $1,500 for Hall County Schools’ first Winter Ball. All of the middle and high school special education students throughout the district were invited.
“When you go to state games, there are opening ceremonies, and they dance afterward,” DeVall said. “There’s nothing like that for the county. We wanted something that would bring the students in our county together.”
Over 300 students arrived on buses during the school day to dance, do activities and just hang out. DeVall said the Winter Ball offered a chance for the kids and teenagers to improve their social skills and have fun around a large group of peers.
To thank the students for their participation, DeVall made sure each class took away a basket full of goodies.
“A lot of these kids are usually super shy and don’t interact much with others,” she said. “It was pretty cool seeing everyone together.”
Although DeVall volunteers with those who have special needs on a regular basis, she said they help her as much as she helps them.
She has built strong friendships with two special education students from her school, and has even gotten to cheer with both of them at West Hall High. They’re not the sort of friends who only see each other at school, they meet up afterward to grab dinner or spend time at their homes.
“Being around them just brings the good out in you,” DeVall said. “You want to be someone they can look up to. They’re always happy and smiling, and it makes you want to be always happy and smiling. I don’t know if they realize that, but they definitely have impacted me.”
When DeVall is not spending time with special education students, she’s cheerleading or volunteer coaching West Hall Youth Cheer.
She started cheerleading in the third grade and during high school served on both the varsity cheer and competition team.
Next school year she will take over as the director for the West Hall Youth Cheer and attend Brenau University under a competition cheer scholarship.
She plans to study psychology to pursue her dream of becoming a support coordinator for families who have children with disabilities.
“I want others to know that they’re no different than you and I,” DeVall said. “Just because they have a disability doesn’t mean you need to treat them differently. That’s why I put so much effort in trying to be there for them.”
West Hall High School graduating seniors
A tentative list provided by Hall County Schools
Ana Aldaco Otero
Alexis Arroyo Garcia
Rachel Chacon Castaneda
Evelin Flores Ortiz
Tania Hernandez Bedolla
Ashley Hernandez Iraheta
Geu Ho Jung
Dalnick Matos Gomez
Rosario Mayo Lopez
Juan Montenegro Zamora
William Page III
Cesar Sanchez Jr.
Juan Sanchez Jr.
Arturo Soto Jr.