A new organization at Luther has a mission to bring college students and children with special needs together.

The Friends Organization is a newly-sanctioned organization that focuses on establishing long-lasting relationships between Luther students and local children with special needs.

Andy Peck, a senior at Luther, started forming the group last fall.

Peck worked with special needs kids for two summers and found it to be a passion of his, he said. As a biology major, he doesn't plan to make it a career.

"My work there changed my life and showed me a whole new type of courage," he said. "It really motivated me to bring that experience to Luther."

Assisting Peck are Laura Smith, the special needs facilitator in the Decorah School District, and Jeff Wattach, the adaptive physical education instructor at Luther and group advisor.

Friends Organization will have a mentor/mentee structure. Luther students and the children will be paired, and they will remain together as long as possible, Peck said.

The pairs will participate in group activities with the Friends Organization, like using adaptive physical education equipment, having campus-wide scavenger hunts, touring the police and fire stations and more. Luther professors will lead some of the activities.

Pairs will plan independent activities, like going out to eat, watching sporting events or visiting parks.

"It's to give these kids opportunities they might not have had," Peck said. The group will get them interacting with the Luther community.

"We're trying to get them involved in these unique experiences," he said.

Luther students have shown a strong interest in Friends Organization, Peck said. About 48 have already gone through a training program, facilitiated by a special needs professional. Students come from a wide-range of programs, including business, biology and education, he said.

Less than 10 children have signed up so far, Peck said. Those invited to join are ages 5-19, and afflicted by mild, moderate and profound developmental disabilities, he said.

Information will be sent home with special needs students through Decorah schools. Parents and guardians can e-mail friendsorganization@luther.edu, and information will be sent to them, Peck said. The program is free. While sign-up is allowed year-round, registering early will assist in scheduling, Peck said.