Corona del Sol senior defends what matters most on and off the pitch
As a center back for Corona del Sol’s varsity soccer team, Nathaniel Thompson is no stranger to being selfless and defending what matters most to him on the soccer field.
He lives his life the very same way, too.
In middle school, Thompson participated in the “Best Buddies” program for special needs kids, something his older brother was also doing in high school at Corona del Sol.
“From then I kind of fell in love with it and I’ve continued to have that be my main passion,” Thompson said. “I keep going with it as long as I can and keep serving the community as long as I can, as much as I can and try to make whatever difference it is that I have the ability to.”
So it’s no surprise that Thompson continued serving the special needs community once he got to high school with LEAP (Learning Enrichment After-School Program), an after-school program that serves Tempe middle and high school students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Thompson’s idea was planter boxes for horticultural therapy, a professional practice that uses gardening and plants to improve physical and mental health.
“It’s a sensory thing where they can put their hands in the dirt and just feel the plants, seeds and water, something to get out of the classroom with and have fun outside,” he said.
“To learn for something to grow and be successful, you need to provide it with a support system, constant care and attention. You can’t just plant a seed and leave it there. It needs water. It needs consistent water. It’s like a kid growing up that needs care, needs attention. … It makes it hands-on and everybody learns better when you’re interested and having fun and enjoying it. Everybody likes high school biology class when you’re at the lab tables and not sitting at your desk.”
Thompson managed to raise $3,000 to fund his project by sending letters to family, friends and the Knights of Columbus from several Valley churches.
To his amazement, the costs for the planter boxes was only $600, leaving an extra $2,400 that would later fulfill a wishlist that included adaptive recreational equipment, books, puzzles, board games, gardening tools, cooking supplies, Amazon tablets, streaming devices and two iPads.
“One of the things that I’ve noticed being involved with special needs programs through the years is that they use those iPads a lot,” Thompson said. “But a lot of the time they won’t have enough because some of the kids will be non-verbal and even if they aren’t, if they have trouble speaking, they’ll still use the iPads for communication apps.”
Thompson is also involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a member of the foundation youth leadership council that meets once a month to discuss goals and host guest speakers. The foundation had 420 wishes last year.
“We all put on our wish weeks at our schools, so we’ll have different types of fundraisers at our schools to try to raise money for the program,” Thompson said.
“I’ll be putting mine on in the spring in mid-March with another girl from my school, so together we’ll be putting that on. … Our goal is $3,000 for our fundraiser personally from our school and I think we’ll well exceed that. It’s awesome. It really just brings the school together.”
So what does the future hold for the high school senior?
Thompson will continue to serve the Tempe community for at least the next four years, as he will be attending Arizona State University to pursue a supply chain degree.
“Wherever I’m at, wherever I end up, I’ll do some research, figure out where the special needs programs are, how well they’re funded and figure out where the need is,” Thompson said. “Whatever I can find, I’ll do because that’s how much it means to me and that’s how much of a passion it is.
“And eventually if I can get to the point where I can put on one of these events for these kids, I can’t imagine what that would feel like. That’s a life goal for me, putting something like that together for those kinds of individuals that really need it and deserve it.”