Best Buddies International is a wonderful organization, founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver. Its core principles have been the foundation for what have become buddy-like programs throughout the world. It’s actually a simple concept of friendship, by pairing individuals with special needs with mainstream individuals. This concept has paved the way to many buddy-like programs throughout the community. Interestingly enough many of these have been started by young students in high school who have taken something they love, and want to share it with a special needs peer.
At Cypress Bay High School various activities have been launched. Four years ago, the Cypress Bay High School Cheer Buddies was created. Alexia Alter, a freshman cheerleader took her love of cheerleading and created a mentoring-friendship program which addresses many of the social and mentoring needs of Special Needs students. As a nominee of the prestigious Silver Knight Award in 2013, Alexia continues to mentor rising cheerleaders to ensure that this program continues in High School. The HDS Foundation has collaborated on many activities related to Cheer Buddies as it provides a great vehicle for students to learn from others, to model appropriate social behaviors in large groups and the like, and will strengthen the student’s abilities to better engage in work-related scenarios later on. This program built community awareness of learning and ability differences.
In 2013 Cypress Bay High School Senior Annie Leiman was awarded the Silver Knight Award for Drama which included the development of the S.T.A.G.E.S. (Special Theater and Arts Group for Every Student) project. Alongside Senior Paige Novie, and other student assistants, this buddy-arts program provided special needs students the ability to perform on stage, and utilize this medium as a method of self expression which included singing, dancing, musical instruments, and other activities which promote self-expression. This is a critical skill (expressive language) that many students with IDD have difficulty with, and that is so important in being able to communicate later in life; post-secondary education, or future employment being two examples. The program also addressed many self-confidence building skills, and engagement in a variety of different locations and groups, which also develops peripheral skill sets too. The program was a huge success and built awareness within the community.