March 23, 2005: Headlines: Directors - Shriver: Service: Huntington Herald: Anthony Shriver's 'Best Buddies' program builds bonds among students

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Anthony Shriver's 'Best Buddies' program builds bonds among students

Anthony Shriver's 'Best Buddies' program builds bonds among students

Anthony Shriver's 'Best Buddies' program builds bonds among students

'Best Buddies' program builds bonds among students

Art Rodia, Correspondent

March 23, 2005

Anthony Shriver, founder and CEO of Best Buddies International, left, checks the score on a basketball game with Hardy Wood, center, and Kevin Carlisle.
Someone asked Anthony Shriver if he was on a tour of Best Buddies International chapters. Advocate staff photo by John H. Williams

High school students often prefer not to "hang out" with anyone different from themselves. However, a group of Shelton High teens is taking action to change that restrictive tendency.
While most teenage students are enjoying after-school activities and weekends with their peers, three Shelton High School seniors make an effort to find time to spend with their "Best Buddies."

Samantha Abbott, Kim Szondy and Sharon Dietzel are three of the school's 11 "mainstream" students who have been paired in a one-to-one friendship with a student in special education classes.

Shelton High's Best Buddies program is part of a world organization dedicated to creating friendships between people with and without intellectual disabilities.

Every two weeks, during the high school's enrichment period, the members of Best Buddies meet with the program's co-advisors, English teacher Carolyn Finley and special education teacher Allegro Fitzgerald.

Finley said this is the first year of hosting the Best Buddies program at the school. "This program is wonderful for both the special education student as well as the regular mainstream student," said Finley. "It truly has reciprocal value. It's beneficial to both of them."

Fitzgerald and Finley explained how the program provides special education students with a "friend,"who accepts them as they are, no matter what their intellectual disability, or wherever they may be in their social skills.

The mainstream education students learn how to interact and have fun with their buddies. Movies, recreation, shopping trips to the mall, helping with schoolwork and playing video games are some of the activities Best Buddies share together.

The group's members are looking forward to their special culminating activity - the "Best Buddies Ball" - a multi-chapter dance party at Westport's Staples High School in April.

"Hopefully, a lot of these buddies in the program will keep their relationships going even after they leave Shelton High School," Finley said.

Senior Michael Sokolowski said he enjoys spending time with his "buddy" Jeff Zuenskes. "Jeff loves to go bowling with me, and it's rewarding to see how much fun he has whenever I can share that time with him," Michael said.

There are 421 high school Best Buddies chapters worldwide. Each chapter is a registered student organization within the individual schools, led by a chapter president.

In September, Seniors Kim and Sharon were selected as the school's Best Buddies program co-presidents. Their responsibilities include organizing the program's fundraising activities, leading the buddy-pairing events, and coordinating a field trip to Plasko's Farm corn maze in Trumbull.

They also organized an evening pizza party at Sharon's home. All the students' parents were invited, where they could meet their child's buddy and discuss their perceptions of the program with the other parents.

"It helps the special education kids feel more like a part of the school," Sharon explained. "For me, it's not an obligation, I enjoy the time I've spent hanging out with my buddy, Meghan. [McCormack]."

"It's been a valuable experience for me, I've learned a lot," Kim said. She plans to study sports management at college next year. Her Buddy, sophomore Jenna Seredio, talked about how much she enjoys going to the movies and then getting something to eat with Kim and her friends.

At last week's statewide Best Buddies banquet at the University of Hartford, the local group received a prestigious award from Amanda Peck, The Connecticut Best Buddies program manager. Out of 23 participating Connecticut high schools, Shelton was named Connecticut's Best Buddies Chapter of the Year.

"For being a new program, we're thrilled with the Chapter of the Year Award," said Finley, as she proudly displayed the first place plaque. "I think the award committee realized the energy, commitment and variety of activities we've initiated this year."

The Best Buddies national organization was founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, son of Sargent and Eunice Shriver. The main idea behind its formation was to help remedy the lack of opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities to be able to socialize with their peers without these disabilities.

The goal in introducing a Best Buddies program at Shelton High School is to help people cross the invisible line that too often separates those with disabilities from those without.

©Huntington Herald 2005

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Story Source: Huntington Herald

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