TOWNSEND — Having a friend means something different to everyone, and how friendships form is a question for the ages. But some of the answers may be found on Best Buddies Day at North Middlesex Regional High School.
Best Buddies is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with disabilities by providing opportunities for one-to-one friendships and integrated employment.
Meryl Morgan, special education advisor at the high school, brought Best Buddies before the administration, and with their blessing has gotten the program up and running.
”I was working on my Master’s Degree and I needed an elective course, so I took Social Issues in the High School Environment,” Morgan said. “It gave me the opportunity to see students with special needs being integrated.”
Morgan said the Best Buddies Program was a perfect fit for what she was trying to do.
”This program matches students to become best buddies. Since it started, I have more volunteers than special-needs students to offer,” Morgan said.
Senior Jessica Schoorens is a buddy to senior Tiffany Moore, and the two have become close.
”I love this program,” Schoorens said. “I am just disappointed this is my senior year so I have only one year to do it in.” Moore said she loves the program as well, as she now has the opportunity to have friends.
”Jessica and I go shopping, to gymnastics, and we went and bought our prom dresses,” a beaming Moore said of her buddy. “I get to hang out with her and her friends.”
Schoorens said Moore is fun “to do girlie things with. It’s a great thing.”
Moore is Buddy Director for the program, and has been given the nickname Mayor. She has blossomed into a social butterfly since acquiring a buddy.
After graduation, Moore is going on to Mount Wachusett Community College to take cooking classes. “I love to cook at home,” she said.
Schoorens said Moore will do fine now that she has come into her own thanks to the Best Buddies program. “She’s a great kid, and being in the program has taught her a lot,” Schoorens said.
Buddies Christine Kelleher and Steven Haufman eat lunch together, go to movies and spent some time sledding this winter.
Maggie Hanley is the president of the Best Buddies Chapter, and Erin Howard is the vice president. Each has a sibling in the program.
”Both of our siblings are freshmen so we were spending time with them in school,” Hanley said. “Now they each have a buddy, and they’re making friends all over the place. They can walk in the halls and say ‘hi’ to everybody and it’s nice to see.”
Junior Nicole Connolly is the secretary of the chapter, and her Buddy is Chris Kenney.
”I’ve know Chris since middle school,” Connolly said. “It was a good opportunity for him to get involved in school things. He is attending the junior prom this year and he has a date. He’s been able to make friends outside of his own classroom.”
Treasurer Tom Carey has Nathaniel Burris as his Buddy, and Carey is gaining a better understanding of the ‘life skills’ class that Burris attends.
”It is helping Nathaniel and myself as well,” Carey said. “I want to go into human services and this gives me the gist of what it is all about.”
Morgan said she wants to make Best Buddy Day an annual event at the school.
”These special-needs students have such beautiful souls,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to come to work every day and be involved with them. To see them make friends with everyone is tremendous.”
Principal James O’Shea said Best Buddies “is outstanding for the school students; there are benefits for everyone. The kids get to just be kids with friends,” he said.