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Friendship matters

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Organization promoting socialization for kids with disabilities comes to Shelby

By Lisa King

An international organization with a Kentucky chapter has come to Shelby County, with the goal of helping kids with disabilities make friends easier, say officials.

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Best Buddies International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I’m one of the sponsors for the Best Buddies program – it’s strictly student driven,” said Kristen Kapp, a special needs teacher at Shelby County High School.

The organization serves, but is not limited to, people with Downs syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities.

It’s mission?

Dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation and helping them form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communications skills, and feel valued by society.

Baylee Dean, the student that established the chapter at SCHS, said she wanted to start such a movement at her school because she realizes that it can be very hard for kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities to make friends and connections on their own.

“My mom teaches at Eastern High School [in Jefferson County] and they had it there, and when she mentioned it to me I thought it was awesome,” she said. “I’ve always had a passion for helping people with disabilities and I really wanted to start it, so I starting E-mailing Best Buddies Kentucky and then I went to Indiana for a weekend to learn how to start the club at your school and how to raise money, and I came back to apply everything that I learned.”

The way it works, she said, is that Best Buddies matches kids with disabilities up with a peer volunteer to form a “buddy pair.”

“The high schoolers are paired up with students with special needs, and it’s purely to create friendship outside the school, so they communicate with their buddies several times a week and we have events at the school,” she said.

“Like, we’ve had a movie with popcorn and we’ve had cookie decorating, and we’re trying to put together a Special Needs Prom because we have fifteen special needs kids at the high school.”

Kapp said she has been getting some good feedback about the program.

“A lot of the parents have been talking about it,” she said.

She and Dean are promoting efforts to raise money to finance the program as well, she said.

“The thing is, the fee to get all the training is $350 a year and that doesn’t include stuff like popcorn and that kind of thing, so we’re trying to get that started up, this is our first year,” she said.

 

Upcoming events

Dean said a Friendship Walk coming up March 25 at Waterfront Park in Louisville would offer both a good opportunity for fellowship for buddies, as well as to raise money.

“In Kentucky, all of the schools that are doing it are going to come together, and it’s going to be at the Waterfront this year, and we will walk a mile. And there will be food and we will spread the message of what our purpose is,” she said. “You raise money to be a part of it, and you have a deadline,” she said, adding that the goal is to raise $700 by the date of the Friendship Walk.

Anyone that wishes to donate to the school’s program may do so at goo.gl/MY197M.

Dean said she is every excited about the upcoming prom that they hope to hold in April, as well as the other events that she and her buddy, a student with fetal alcohol syndrome, have enjoyed.

“All of the students with intellectual or developmental disabilities, we just want to give them the best chance for a normal high school life,” she said. “We can take them out on dates, or take them to football games and out to eat and stuff like that, and they can also be a part of athletic teams. One of the girls, she’s on the cheerleading team, and she goes out and she is with them during football and basketball games.”

Along with the 15 special needs students, there are also 25 other students that belong to the club, she said.

“We also have members that are not paired up with someone with a disability, so they can help fundraise and do other things,” she said.

“We have a mentor program, you can actually take a class where you go in there during one of their periods and you hang out with them and help them learn. I really enjoyed that, so I thought, if people enjoy that, maybe they would enjoy this, because it would just spur their idea of it more.

For more information about the program, contact Kapp at 633-2344.