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(From left to right) Sarina Shakouri, Bernadette Chiarello and Lyndcee Barragato stand in the Dana Point Harbor. They are a part of the Just Like Me Foundation, a nonprofit aiming to make every kid feel included. Photo: Kristina Pritchett
Members of Just Like Me Foundation made sure each of the kids had dates to Dana Hills High School’s Homecoming in 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Just Like Me Foundation
Some of the events the Just Like Me Foundation holds are bonfires at Doheny State Beach. Photo: Courtesy of Just Like Me Foundation
By Kristina Pritchett
Using her love for helping others as motivation, a Dana Hills High School graduate created a non-profit organization that allows kids with intellectual and development disabilities to better socialize with their peers.
Lyndcee Barragato, a Laguna Niguel resident, realized quickly she enjoyed working with different needs students when she began volunteering in special education classes at Dana Hills High School.
“I wanted to invite these kids out to events and activities,” Lyndcee said. “So then I’d take them out to the movies, bowling, and that’s when I realized they really enjoyed doing it, and it made me want to create an organization.”
Just Like Me, a 501(c)(3) organization, was thus created to serve young adults with intellectual and development disabilities with the purpose of providing organized after-school, weekend and summer activities.
Along with the group’s vice president, Sarina Shakouri, Lyndcee has been working hard to help other kids her age with disabilities enjoy life.
Lyndcee’s mother, Lori, said while Lyndcee was in high school, she invited one of the boys in the class to winter formal, and when she called the boy’s mom, she thought it was a prank.
“She said, ‘This isn’t a joke at all,’ and the mother got very emotional,” Lori said. “So Lyndcee came home and said, ‘If one person feels this way, how many other mothers feel like that?’ And I told her, ‘All of them.’”
To have enough money to pull off the ultimate school dance experience, Lyndcee returned her birthday and Christmas gifts and was able to rent a stretch limo for the group. To top it off, Lyndcee and Sarina made sure everyone had a date.
“It was amazing,” said Bernadette Chiarello, an ambassador for the group. She remembered attending the dance with the group and said it was a great experience.
The group intends to hold events like movie nights, bowling nights, bonfires and more.
“We want to do at least two events per month,” Lyndcee said. “We’re small and just getting started, so for now we’re sticking with two.”
The group’s future goals include branching out to not only high school students, but young adults in surrounding communities.
“Often times, once the students leave the high school, there’s not that many activities for them,” said Sarina’s mom, Allie Shakouri. “One of our main goals is inclusion.”
Another goal the group wants to work on is giving back to the community.
“The girls are very keen on being a part of the community and giving back to them,” Allie said.
In the lead-up to the kick-off event, Lyndcee and Sarina said they’re excited.
“We’re ready for the night and are excited to get people interested,” Sarina said.
The Foundation is holding a kick-off event for 2017 on Feb. 22 in the Dana Point Community Center’s gym.
There will be a variety of activities, live music by DJ NOAH, as well as an information session for parents. There will be free pizza and drinks.
The group asks anyone interested to RSVP by Feb. 15 by emailing Lyndcee@justlikemefoundation.org or text/call 949.322.0334.
The Community Center is located at 34052 Del Obispo Street, Dana Point, and the event runs from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
For more information, or to make a donation to the group, visit the group online at www.justlikemefoundation.org or on Facebook.