This story is part of Newsday’s 2020 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 12 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. See more Extraordinary Seniors at newsday.com/extraordinaryseniors.
Allyson Clark was traumatized by her cousin’s suicide — and it became a call to action.
“It’s a part of my life that has definitely help me become who I am,” said Clark, 17, a senior at Walt Whitman High School.
“I didn’t leave my house for two whole months,” said Clark, who found out afterward her cousin had suffered in silence from cyberbullying. “I didn’t go to school. I was scared to get out of my shell.”
In time, Clark realized she wanted to be there for others who needed someone to talk to. In her senior year, she became president of Natural Helpers, which coordinates peer-to-peer emotional support, and helped set up Mental Health Awareness Week to “show people that mental health is a real thing and we have to focus on it.”
“What makes her [Allyson] so spectacular is that she understood the pulse of the school, everything that’s going on today with mental health issues,” said Charlotte Hirsch-Beckman, adviser for Natural Helpers.
As president of the Ambassadors Club, which works to integrate special-needs students into the school community, Clark created “Together Walk” in October 2019, inviting students, families and friends to gather on the school’s turf field to dance, play field games and walk the track, raising $1,000 for the club. “I wanted to get the entire district and community involved,” Clark said, adding she has mentored younger club members to carry on next year.
Clark said her passion for children and adults with special needs has helped her accept her own learning disability, a processing disorder and testing anxiety diagnosed in ninth grade. “I was able to relate to people with disabilities of all types,” she said.
“I think that’s why she welcomes everyone with special needs and disabilities of all types — and wants them to feel just like any other kid,” said her mother, Theresa Clark.
And, thanks to Allyson Clark’s unwavering empathy and support, they do.
HIGHER ED: Concordia College in Bronxville, majoring in special education
FRESHMAN YEAR: Clark looks forward “to meeting people of all races and genders and abilities.”
DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED: “Not to take anything for granted and to really use your time wisely.”