In the early weeks of each new year, schools across the nation typically remain void of any people.
However, this is not the case at St Joseph's High School in Aberdeen.
In a tradition spanning more than 15 years, each January students converge at the Upper Hunter school and proudly play host to dozens of community guests as part of an initiative called interACTs.
Chic Taylor founded the event, formerly known as All-Stars. Chic now works for Hunter Disability Services and said the original concept was to deliver a suite of activities that would build disability service clients' confidence.
"In the early days we asked NIDA to partner with us to deliver the event, but we soon realised that St Josephs' students were more than capable of facilitating the activities," Chic said.
Chic said that while interACTs still goes a long way in boosting the confidence of disability service participants, the event has evolved to signify so much more.
"It's really become a celebration of diversity," Chic said, "As we gather at St Joseph's each year, it's wonderful to see new connections being formed and old connections strengthened."
The students at St Joseph's are just so impressive; they give up part of their school holidays to help us deliver this initiative, and they do it without any fuss and with the biggest smile on their face.- interACTs Event founder Chic Taylor
In the months leading up to January, Chic met the new cohort of St Joseph's Year 12 students to plan the event.
"The students at St Joseph's are just so impressive; they give up part of their school holidays to help us deliver this initiative, and they do it without any fuss and with the biggest smile on their face," Chic said.
And while COVID-19 prevented interACTs from taking place in 2021 and 2022, the hiatus did nothing to damper the spirits of those involved in this year's event.
For three days, there was merriment and laughter at the school as more than 80 people gathered for an action-packed program bursting with dancing, singing, art, craft and sport.
At the end of the three days, students and participants who receive support from local disability service providers including Hunter Disability Services, Challenge and, Inspiring Abilities invite their loved ones to join them for a barbeque and high-energy performance.
Evelyn Bell, a sports captain at St Joseph's, said she was thrilled for the opportunity to be on the organising committee for this year's event.
"I first became aware of interACTs while I was still in primary school. My older sisters would take part in the event each January, and I would watch the final night's showcase performance with my parents.
"It looked like so much fun! So, when I started high school I knew I wanted to be part of InterACTs too, and I have loved every year I have been involved."
"My motivation for taking part was wanting to help make other people happy.
"However, it didn't take long for me to realise that my involvement in interACTs wasn't just making the disability services participants happy, I loved the experience as well!" Evelyn said.
Evelyn is not alone in her continued support of interACTs, with more than 40 St Joseph's students, across years 7-12, taking part in this year's event.
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Each of the students are partnered with a community member, and the 'buddies' then take part in a rotation of events.
Evelyn said that the connections that are formed at interACTs often last long beyond the event.
"At this year's event I saw my 'buddy' that I was partnered with in Year 7. She ran up and gave me a big hug, it was so great to see her again!"
Chic said that Evelyn's experience is not unique and that many of the service participants have been attending interACTs since its inception.
"For many of our participants, the real highlight of the year is interACTs. They have so much fun, and it helps to foster their sense of belonging, which is such a special feeling to be part of."
"To see their smiles is brilliant and makes all the hard work of the students and service providers joining forces to put the event together, worth it!" Chic said.
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