Comets in Action cope with inability to meet in person

Rilee Malloy | Staff Writer

Graphic by Rachel Cai – Comets in Action members forced to distance due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Comets in Action members are mourning the loss of after school adventures as the club is put on hold due to COVID-19.

Every third Thursday of the month, the members of the Comets in Action club spend their afternoons on a bus on the way to their next adventure. From going to a pumpkin patch and finding their way out of corn mazes to painting pottery at Mad Potter, it has created a forum for memories that members hold near and dear to their heart.

In response to CDC guidelines, MHS administration has deemed it unsafe for clubs to meet in person for the rest of the semester. The members of Comets in Action are feeling the effects of this greatly as advisor Shannon Branciforte said that for some students, this club is the only form of social connection that they have. Not only does the club’s hiatus impact the members, but it also saddens advisors to see social bridges lost for their students.

“There’s nothing to support that peer interaction outside of the classroom,” Branciforte said. “That made me really sad, that’s really what’s missing [this year].”

Comets in Action was founded by intervention specialists Alison King and Karen Turner in 1996. The goal of the club was to help the students that they work with do something fun, as King noticed that a lot of her students were only doing things with their families. The club started out as a forum for students with special needs to do something beyond just their families and make strong memories, but it quickly developed to a peer based group as many students were eager to get involved.

“Our main focus is for students to develop real friendships,” King said. “I think some real friendships have formed between people and that’s been really wonderful to see.”

Junior Emily Brutvan has been a member of Comets in Action since her freshman year. For her, the club was an escape from the stress of her everyday life, and with no in-person interactions this year, a vital part of her enjoyment of the school year is gone.

“I was looking forward to Comets in Action this year more than ever,” Brutvan said. “During this time things can get stressful, and on those days you would just forget about everything for those two or three hours and have fun.”

There is a wide range of neurodiversity in the club and the advisors and members make it their goal to give everyone a place where they can be themselves. The goal has been successful, as many club members have found the third Thursday of the month is a safe space for them to be themselves.

“Seeing familiar faces and developing these friendships helps [club members] to build confidence in themselves,” Branciforte said. “I love that Comets in Action is bridging everyone together.”

The club’s advisors said that they have noticed that many people join Comets in Action with the goal to get service hours but end up leaving with valuable lessons and an authentic connection to the club and its members. Brutvan has gained important knowledge from her peers that she may not have gotten otherwise.

“Being a member of Comets in Action has helped me recognize each individual’s uniqueness,” Brutvan said. “Everyone has something to bring to the table and we all can learn from each other in surprising ways.”

Not only is Comets in Action a place where students can form new relationships, but it’s also a place where students can grow and learn valuable lessons in confidence and empathy. Senior Katie Van Vuren said her time in the club has helped her grow as a person, and she is reminiscing on the lessons she’s learned despite missing out on one last year with her friends.

“Comets in Action has taught me to always be myself and be nice to others even when they aren’t kind to you,” Van Vuren said.

Members and advisors are disappointed about the inability to meet for Comets in Action this year, but they are looking forward to being able to meet in years to come. King said she has had many great memories in the club and can’t wait to impact morestudents when it is safe to do so.

“I remember one of the best moments I had in comets in action was when one of our students said that this was a club where she could be herself,” King said. “I could’ve burst into tears. That’s what we wanted, authentic friendships not things that are forced or made up.”