Everyone knows that if you want to have a good friend, you have to be a good friend; the same goes for a buddy.
Northgate’s special education program is renewing its invitation for students to partner with classmates diagnosed with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Weekly lunches that bring together students from all parts of the school are a highlight of this informal group known as the Best Buddies Club.
Best Buddies International is a nonprofit organization that facilitates friendship opportunities and employment and leadership development for individuals with either intellectual or developmental disabilities, otherwise known as IDD. The national organization caters to people with Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, and undiagnosed disabilities. There are over 200 million people with IDD in the world. It was originally started by Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, in order to combat social isolation of people with disabilities.
The staff leader of Northgate’s group is Sally Gibbs, who has taught special education for 25 years. Gibbs has a lot of passion for her job and for this club, which is incredibly beneficial to her students as well as to the other members.
“Students learn how to treat them. They learn how to act around them and to stop feeling sorry for them. My students never lose themselves in the same stress that you guys do, and it benefits everyone to be in this positive environment,” Gibbs said.
The goal of Best Buddies is to highlight the importance of inclusion to the rest of the world; Northgate is just a small part of a larger picture.
“The wrong thing would be not to care,” Gibbs said. “My students want to be heard and Best Buddies gives them that chance.”
Every Thursday the Best Buddies Club members eat lunch together in room 56 to talk about their week and partake in a few activities. Most student gets paired up one-on-one to be buddies for the whole year. Once a month, buddies meet outside of school and hang out, whether it’s to see a movie or go to one of their houses for dinner. Similarly, once a quarter, the whole Best Buddies group goes to the movies together.
Club president Seraph Woodbury started as a club member last year. She joined because she had known some of the students from special education while she was at Foothill Middle School. “Last year I had a buddy, Eric. I talked to him every week at the Thursday lunch meeting,” said Woodbury, a sophomore.
Woodbury also made plans with Eric at least once a month for an activity outside of school. “We went to the movies, we went to the park, we went to an organized friendship walk. We always say hi to each other at school,” she said.
Sandra O’Neill, a sophomore and vice president of the club, said that she just showed up at a meeting last year and knew she would be involved permanently. She did not have a one-on-one buddy last year, but she said she might this year.
“We know we are benefitting them as well as ourselves,” O’Neill said. “It’s mutually enriching,” added Woodbury.
The joy this club bring to its members shines through when they are together, both girls said. It brings happiness and gives the members a new view on life.
Gibbs doesn’t miss a beat in stating how thankful she is for her chance to work with her students and with all students. “I chose this job because I never wanted to be bored and I wanted to make a difference. I love my job; I’m never bored and God, do I make a difference,” concluded Gibbs.
For more information on Best Buddies, contact the group at [email protected], or bring your lunch to a Thursday meeting in room 56.