Club Moai Helps Disabled Teens Find Community

In the summer of 2019, Luke A. ’23 noticed that his brother, Dominic, who has autism, was isolated at home while Luke regularly socialized with his friends. Luke decided he wanted to create opportunities for teens with disabilities to make friends with other teens with similar experiences. He talked to his brother’s therapist and came up with the idea to create Club Moai, based on social support groups that start in childhood and extend into the 100s in Japan’s Okinawa, with his brother as inspiration.

Initially, the group started small with about four other teens meeting in Luke's family's backyard, but it began to grow exponentially to 15 or 20 attendees in the following months. His friend, Ziko E. ’23, was an early supporter and eventually partnered with Luke to help run the club. The two also leaned on Student Community Engagement Coordinator Renée Larios for support and guidance with the club.

“I went to the first event, and it was a great experience to see the group socializing comfortably and having peaceful conversations,” said Ziko. “It was really impactful, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Luke shares that the best interaction is when the members have one-on-one conversations with other teens. As a result,  there have been lots of Poly student volunteers who have joined the events to support this effort. During the pandemic, the club moved online with specific activities during each virtual meeting to keep the members engaged and entertained. For their Valentine’s Day event, the group created valentine cards for friends and family.

Recently, Club Moai was awarded a prestigious Dragon Kim fellowship for $5,000 to continue the club and broaden the club’s impact. The fellowship also provides mentorship for expanding the club's reach. Luke shares he was inspired by Maaso O. ’22 who won the award previously and shared insight into the fellowship.

“What’s important to Ziko and me is having a large impact,” said Luke. “We wanted to create a social group for teenagers with disabilities, but we also want to provide experiences for Poly students to be comfortable in this group. Poly is different from a public school where you might interact with students with disabilities more.”

The duo hopes to create a summer camp for Club Moai members with funding from the Dragon Kim Foundation and support from the Student Community Engagement organization at Poly. Activities could include learning to surf, rock climbing, and bowling.

Luke shares his inspiration for the club name comes from moai groups in Okinawa, Japan. The island is a “blue zone” or a place where individuals have some of the longest lifespans in the world. Researchers attribute this to residents keeping in touch with friends throughout their entire lives through moai groups. 

“I thought the name was super applicable to what we do as we try to improve lives through social activity,” said Luke.

To get involved with Club Moai email Luke for more information.