Special friends

Best Buddies program builds bonds between students with disabilities and their peers

Best Buddies program builds bonds between students with disabilities and their peers

December 14, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Sure, the snow-tubing trips and other activities rock. But Carrissa Kesler said the best part of participating in the Best Buddies program at South Hagerstown High School was sitting across the table from her in Terri Younker's special education classroom.

His name is Robert Linton.

"I thought it would be fun to get to know everybody," said sophomore Carrissa, 15, of Hagerstown, who signed up for the Best Buddies program during her freshman year at South High. "Meeting Robert" has been the high point of her experience, she said.

Best Buddies High Schools - one of six Best Buddies International programs - pairs students with disabilities with their able-bodied peers for a wide array of activities, according to information on the organization's Web site at


Participation in the club fosters students' communication skills, teaches them the importance of helping others, and "makes them socially aware," said Younker, adviser for the Best Buddies program at South Hagerstown High School.

North Hagerstown and Williamsport high schools also boast Best Buddies programs in Washington County.

"I think people would be surprised that high school kids, who supposedly don't care about anybody else, like to help other people. I think it's cool to be able to interact with special needs children and get to know them," said senior club member Ashley Kemmerer, 17, of Hagerstown. "Some people think that special needs children are a lot different than we are. They're not. They don't need to be treated differently because they're just like us."

Members of Best Buddies' South High chapter serve as peer tutors and general classroom aids for their special needs friends. They sell flower bulbs, decorative holiday door hangers, "candygrams" - bags of candy with personalized notes attached - and other items to raise money for such activities as field trips, holiday parties and buying gifts for families in need.

About a dozen of the 58 club members at South High - including 26 special needs students - got together after school Monday, Dec. 6, to plan upcoming events. They divvied out shopping lists for the Christmas gifts they'll provide for a single mother and her five children. They made a to-do list for the Best Buddies holiday party Monday, Dec. 20. They voted to take another snow-tubing field trip with part of the proceeds from the candygram and other fund-raisers.

"It's so much fun," said chapter president Caitlin Nicewarner, 16, of Hagerstown. "It's just a whole different level of interaction."

Robert Linton, who has a permanently disabling birth defect called spina bifida, agreed.

"I love it. It's fun and you get to meet different people," said Robert, 18, of Hagerstown. "It's a great experience."

He especially enjoyed the club's fall trip to a pumpkin patch - complete with hayride. Dustin Carr, who has cerebral palsy, said he rode a horse for the first time during the club's outing at the Star Equestrian Center in Hagerstown. The friendships he's made through Best Buddies have made an even stronger impression.

"Kids who don't have disabilities like the kids who do have disabilities," said Dustin, 16, of Hagerstown.

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