It doesn’t cost to be kind.
“Kindness is spreading sunshine into other people’s lives regardless of the weather.” Anonymous
“For some reason, the thread caught my eye and I was curious, so I clicked the link and watched the video. I was so moved and sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face!” reminisces Ms. Messmer, Guidance Counselor at Southeast Middle School.
The video that Ms. Messmer is referring to is of a young woman with Down Syndrome and her friendship with another student through the Best Buddies Program. She loved the idea of differently abled students building connections and lasting friendships with their peers of all different abilities. She researched the organization and reached out to the Best Buddies North Carolina Program Manager, Izzi Tritz, to find out how to start a chapter at Southeast Middle. After Ms. Messmer shared the information about the program with Principal Jennifer Lentz and exceptional children’s teachers Beth Loney, Kacie Stamey, and Cody Myers, they were immediately excited about starting a chapter and were willing to take the next steps.
One-to-One Friendships through Best Buddies
Best Buddies is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical, and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The program empowers the special abilities of people with IDD by helping them form meaningful friendships with their peers and feel valued by society. The program also helps them secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, and learn self-advocacy and communication skills.
There are currently 530 chapters in middle schools across the world, and Southeast Middle just so happens to be the first and only established chapter in the Rowan-Salisbury School System!
The school started last spring by advertising Best Buddies to the students on the morning news and by setting up an information table outside the cafeteria during lunch. Ms. Messmer was ecstatic about the number of students who showed interest in Best Buddies. “Even though the students knew we would not start the program until the 2019-2020 school year, almost 150 students signed up to receive more information and then showed up for an informational meeting,” stated Ms. Messmer.
Destiny Hartsell, Southeast Middle student, indicated that she was learning sign language in case her Buddy used ASL.
Erin Messmer, Beth Loney, Kacie Stamey, and Cody Myers planned a Matching Party to stir up the excitement and was overwhelmed with joy from the number of students and parents who showed up.
“Our Matching Party took place on September 20. Our team got to work learning which Peer Buddy would be the best fit for our Buddies. Because so many students wanted to be Peer Buddies, almost all of our Buddies have two Peer Buddies! I really expected 10-15 students to show up for the Matching Party, but 45 students came to the party along with some parents and siblings! We used a ‘Sorting Hat’ like from Harry Potter and had each Buddy sit on a stool wearing the hat. One of our awesome teacher assistants, Stephanie Herge, had the idea to put the Peer Buddy’s name on a card and place it in a cup covered with tissue paper. The Buddy pushed her hand through the paper on the cup and pulled out the name of her Peer Buddy! In almost every case, the Peer Buddy’s name was a surprise, and the joy on the Buddy’s face was so fun to see,” explained Ms. Messmer.
During the Matching Party, one of the Peer Buddies, Haylee Moore, was beaming and seemed on the verge of tears. When asked if she was ok, she said, “I am just SO happy!” One parent, Paulino Curiel, who attended the Matching Party with his son Juan, said “the program was a blessing.”
Upcoming Best Buddies Activities
The Southeast Middle School Best Buddies will be paired in friendship for the rest of the school year. They will eat lunch together on Tuesdays. The next event consisted of tailgating for the last home football game of the year. They plan to attend Best Buddies Night with the Charlotte Checkers on November 9 and Special Olympics in the Spring. They will celebrate Halloween with a Pumpkin Painting Party and Thanksgiving with a “Friendsgiving” event in November. There are many more fun events planned to provide opportunities for Buddies and Peer Buddies to spend time together and build connections.
Pictured below: Buddy Lunches and Tailgating for a SEMS football game.
Robby Novak, better known as the YouTube personality Kid President, said it best when he stated, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Kindness works whether you are at home, work, or school. What better place to see it happening than at Southeast Middle in their Best Buddies Program? Best Buddies is preparing students for the “real world” and knowing that it is happening in our schools makes me thankful for those like Principal Jennifer Lentz, Guidance Counselor Erin Messmer, and Southeast’s exceptional children’s teachers.
Being Inclusive Gives Students a Sense of Belonging
As a school social worker, I value inclusion, representation, and serving the community. It is important that our students have opportunities to build relationships, serve, and be among those who are differently able. This allows students to be more compassionate, patient, and considerate of others.
Best Buddies is a true act of service. When a person gives back to their own community, it shows that they not only value their community, but gives them a sense of responsibility in taking care of their own. I am impressed by the impact that Best Buddies is making at Southeast Middle and the relationships that are being developed from it.