Club officers Michael Cullen (left), Isaac Moridani and Darren Bray finalize plans for the Halloween party Oct. 26. (Austin Weatherman/Lariat)
The Super Friends Club circles around the tables in the cafeteria, displaced from their usual meeting place in the Student Lounge, making last minute adjustments for their Halloween party on Thursday evening. Club president Michael Cullen listens closely to adviser Michael Hoggatt as he explains the specifics to the upcoming event, making sure everything is set. Although Hoggatt guides the students, it is the officers who make the club super.
Cullen found his way to the top after his friend left the position of president, giving the 21-year-old communications major the opportunity to step up. He says that he joined the club because he wanted to make new friends with the club members. But looking back, not only did he make friends, he learned more about those in need.
“The club is a great way for people to really know kids with special needs and become knowledgeable to what they go through on a day-to-day basis,” Cullen said. “People who don’t fully understand special needs and the many types of disorders should come and see what we do. It opens up a new mind set and hopefully through educating people, we can eliminate the ‘r’ word.”
Cullen aided for the special needs class all his four years at Dana Hills High School, the experience sparking his passion to work in special education. It is his last semester with the Super Friends Club because he plans to transfer to California State University, Fullerton to dive deeper into the special education program. Even though Cullen is leaving, he says he wants to finish the year strong with the club’s last three events, the first in the lineup being the group’s Halloween party on Oct. 26.
“We are going to have music, a dance party and a photo booth for the kids,” Cullen said. “We are also hosting a costume contest, which will be a lot of fun. There is going to be games everywhere and coloring for everyone’s enjoyment.”
Vice president Isaac Moridani first got his start in the special education field while at San Clemente High School, volunteering through the Best Buddies program. Moridani was diagnosed at a young age with autism spectrum disorder, which affects an individual’s performance in school and understanding of social skills, but he has not let his disability hold him down. After joining the club last semester, Moridani says he can see how his work in the field is affecting his life.
“Michael Hoggatt, our club advisor, had convinced me to join Super Friends my freshman year of college, and I have loved it ever since I joined,” Moridani said. “It’s been a life-changing experience for me.”
Since he was 1, Moridani says he was raised by his grandparents like a son. His uncle likes to get him out of the house, taking him to baseball games, airshows and places like the Irvine Spectrum. Although Moridani has a disability, it didn’t stop him from serving in a leadership role for the club.
“I never was an officer in the Best Buddies program in high school, so I wanted a leadership position in college, so I decided to run for vice president,” Moridani said. “It’s really cool because I get to meet new kids with special needs and the fact that I understand what they are going through it makes interacting easy.”
Disabled Students Services and Programs chair and club adviser Michael Hoggatt got his start in the special education field while he was studying at Point Loma Nazarene University. The college presented Hoggatt with the chance to travel to Albania to help special needs individuals, sparking a passion that has led to 22 years in the special education field. He became an adviser during his third year at Saddleback after the previous one stepped down for unknown reasons.
Hoggatt says he makes sure all the correct boxes are checked when planning events, but it is the students leading the club who make them happen.
“For many of our students, some of the traditional social activities that come along with college aren’t as easy to access … circumnavigating the social issues can be tough at times,” Hoggatt said. “On one hand, we provide social opportunities to do what anyone else in college does for the kids. The other thing is, for our officers, that they are learning the value of responsibility.”
Student leaders have a dance party, a photo booth and even a costume contest with judges planned for Thursday evening, hoping to host more than 100 students. Hoggatt says the club officers are in a position to make decisions, highlighting the fact that there are not many leadership roles open for special needs students.
“The students are the ones that are putting on the events, they are the ones making things happen,” Hoggatt said. “There is not a lot of opportunities where our students are being entrusted to put something on. Oftentimes, other people put events on for our students, but for example, the upcoming Halloween party is hosted by the students. They are the ones making decisions and running the event.”
The Super Friend’s Halloween Party is from 4 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26 in the Student Services Center room 212. Everyone is welcome and costumes are encouraged.