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Special School District of St. Louis County

Best Buddies Program Promotes
One-to-One Friendships

Bowling, grabbing a bite to eat, or going to Movie Monday at Ballpark Village are all activities that students are enjoying while participating in the one-to-one friendship program, Best Buddies.

“My buddy Matt and I like to play video games together and go to the movies,” said Oliver DeStefano, a junior at Parkway Central High School who receives services from SSD. “My favorite memory of the Best Buddies program was going to the Pajama Jam at Mary Institute and St. Louis County Day School with my buddy Matt.”

Students who receive services from SSD in eight partner district high schools and one partner district middle school are participating in the Best Buddies program.

Parkway Central High School senior Matthew Oppenheim, Oliver’s buddy, said he has made new friends while participating in the program.

“When I met my buddy, my goal was to have fun,” said Oppenheim. “We like to play video games and watch movies. He and I both love NHL and FIFA, so it’s always lots of fun to have competitive matches.”

According to Kelly Quinn, Missouri state director for Best Buddies International, the program has grown from three college chapters to 18 school chapters impacting more than 850 individuals with and without disabilties since starting up in Missouri In January 2016.

“Of that, nearly half of the chapter members choose to commit to a one-to-one friendship with a person of a differing ability,” said Quinn.

Program participants promote the friendship program in schools. A program manager supports the students leading the chapter. They meet regularly, provide planning resources and training, and offer ongoing support. Best Buddies communicate weekly and meet up at least twice a month.

Chapter events include activities like a Friendship Walk in April and a free movie night at Ballpark Village where all chapter members, their families and the community are invited.

Oppenheim’s favorite part of the Best Buddies program is hanging out with his buddy inside and outside of school.

“I’ve learned so much through Best Buddies, specifically how important inclusion is for everybody,” said Oppenheim. “Everyone has different weaknesses and strengths, and what each person can do is far more important than what they can’t. I am excited to try and spread the message of Best Buddies to more people this year and hopefully grow our chapter.”

Best Buddies is dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by helping them form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communication skills, and feel valued by society.

“All Best Buddies chapter members learn the importance of honoring commitments, accountability, time management, and communication skills among many other skills that will benefit them for a lifetime,” said Quinn. “For many of the buddies, this is their first time to experience a genuine friendship with a peer.”

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Published October 2017

Best Buddies Oliver DeStefano (left) and Matthew Oppenheim (right)Best Buddies participants Oliver DeStefano (left) and Matthew Oppenheim (right)

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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