FEATURE — September 21, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Best Buddies club creates inclusive environment

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Club members Ellie Warmund and Varsha Geer promote Best Buddies. Photo courtesy of @MSDBestBuddies
Club members Ellie Warmund and Varsha Geer promote Best Buddies. Photo courtesy of @MSDBestBuddies

Best Buddies club provides a unique service opportunity that gives students the chance to create one-on-one relationships with other students living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). It is an international nonprofit organization that is devoted to building inclusion, integrated employment and leadership development for people with IDD.

“The goal of our club this year is to spread the message of inclusion to everyone at the school and not just members of Best Buddies,” President Ellie Warmund said.

The club meets the first and third Wednesday of every month in sponsor Jessica Marino’s room, with their second sponsor, Penny Pagano. The Stoneman Douglas chapter is fairly large, containing about 78 members, as of the 2015-2016 school year.

Best Buddies’ requirements differ depending on the type of member. Volunteers get matched with a student with a disability, known as buddies, and are required to contact their buddies four times and participate in two activities with their buddy every month. Associate members are not matched with a buddy, but are still given the chance to create friendships with a student with a disability. All members are expected to attend all meetings and activities, inside and out of school.

According Warmund, the Stoneman Douglas chapter is always very successful. The chapter holds many events throughout the year, including a Zumba dance party, parent breakfasts and fundraisers at various local restaurants and shops.

Students in Best Buddies create memorable relationships with their buddy.

“My favorite memory would definitely be going to prom with my buddy, Justin, two years ago. He’s one of my best friends, and it was so amazing to be able to share such a special night with him,” Warmund said. “He has since graduated so we aren’t matched anymore but we still talk and hang out all the time.”

According to Warmund, members of Best Buddies feel the club has had a lasting impact on their lives.

“I have yet to meet one person who has not had an amazing experience in Best Buddies, and I encourage everyone to join. After all, everyone deserves a friend,” Warmund said.

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