Best Buddies club earns recognition at L-W East Tuesday, May 29, 2012
A new club at Lincoln-Way East High School has already earned special recognition for its efforts to foster one-to-one friendships with students with special needs.
The Best Buddies club, which launched in January under the leadership of junior Rachel DiNaso, was recently named Chapter Rookie of the Year.
"It's exciting to see how friendships change lives," said Rachel, who jumped at the chance to start a Best Buddies program at East.
Having been involved in the school's Adaptive P.E. program, Rachel had already seen firsthand how rewarding it is to work with students with special needs and develop friendships.
"It has brought me so much joy," she said. "They are the nicest kids you'll ever meet."
It came as a surprise to the club's charter president that East's Best Buddies program had earned special recognition by the national chapter after only a few months of existence.
"I was overwhelmed (by the honor)" said Rachel was so focused on getting the club started, that she didn't realize how successful it had become.
She attributes the success to the outpouring of support from students, staff and teachers.
"Everyone has worked so hard," she said. "Everyone wanted to give it a great foundation."
About 80 students are currently involved in the club, a not-for-profit, international program that fosters one-to-one friendships between students attending regular education classes and those students who have special needs.
Students with disabilities (buddies) are paired up with students without disabilities (peer buddies) and friendships develop.
East's club currently includes 24 buddies, 24 peer buddies and 30 associate members who do not get paired with a buddy but are assigned to a "buddy family." The associate members are expected to attend all chapter meetings and outings, along with the buddies and peer buddies.
Students are encouraged to get together outside of school (whether it be a trip to the movie theater or local pizza parlor), call each other on the phone and exchange email.
"We're trying to build lasting friendships," said the school's Student Activities Coordinator Katie Meader who serves as a faculty sponsor along with Theresa Burns and Amanda Draeger.
Recruiting students to join Best Buddies has not been difficult, said Rachel. Making them aware of the program's existence has been the real challenge.
"It's been a lot of word of mouth," said Rachel, who has talked the program up in her classes at East and handed out slips of paper with meeting details.
Rachel worked carefully with sponsor Theresa Burns to pair each buddy with a peer buddy or peer family, paying special attention to personalities and how they would interact with each other.
"It was a long process," said the high school junior, "but it was definitely worth it. They're all working out."
Many of the students are enjoying their new friendships so much that they get together more frequently than what's required by the club.
"A lot of people go above and beyond," said Rachel, "because they want to, not because it's required."
Best Buddies are expected to attend monthly club meetings and get together twice a month outside of school.
"Everyone deserves friends," said Rachel, "and this is what (Best Buddies) is all about."