Program helps students with disabilities develop friendships

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03/04/2015 5:00 PM |
From left: Mattituck Best Buddies chapter president Chris Massey, vice president Michael Goodale, director Nick Mele, Ben Hinsch and treasurer Ryan Shuford. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

From left: Mattituck Best Buddies chapter president Chris Massey, vice president Michael Goodale, director Nick Mele, Ben Hinsch and treasurer Ryan Shuford. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

When Mattituck High School senior Nick Mele came across an article about a disabled boy from Washington State who had made a public birthday wish for cards and stickers, he knew who could help make the youngster’s day special.

Nineteen-year-old Nick, who has cerebral palsy, decided he wanted to recruit as many classmates as possible to sign a huge birthday card for Bubby Everson, who turned 9 last month. 

Bubby’s parents decided he couldn’t have a party because they felt it could potentially worsen his health, according to The Washington Post. He has cytomegalovirus, autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy, among other medical conditions, according to the article.

Nick said he decided to take his idea to the school’s Best Buddies club, a chapter of an international organization that promotes opportunities for one-on-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I shared the story on my Facebook page and figured it would be good to get Best Buddies involved,” said Nick, who’s been a member of the organization for the past few years and is its current buddy director. “When I first got to this school, I was in lunch alone watching people just walk by me. If you’re afraid to make friends, like I was in seventh grade, it’s really a good group to join because the kids are so nice.”

Chapter president Chris Massey, 15, and vice president Michael Goodale, 16, said they joined the club because they believe it’s important to give students with disabilities a chance to get involved with the school and the community.

Michael said his best buddy this year is 13-year-old Miguel Borrayo.

Nick Mele helped recruit as many classmates as possible to sign a huge birthday card for a disabled boy in Washington State. (Credit: Mattituck High School)

Nick Mele helped recruit as many classmates as possible to sign a huge birthday card for a disabled boy in Washington State. (Credit: Mattituck High School)

Miguel, who has Down syndrome, was featured in a recent Suffolk Times cover story after he scored the first points of his school basketball career Jan. 8.

“I just love the kid,” Michael said. “I think [Best Buddies] is great because it involves everyone together.”

Club advisors Caroline Wills and guidance counselor Jason Mastropierro are teaching students the importance of friendship and compassion.

“Parents, students and faculty expressed a need because some students were going home on the weekends and doing nothing,” Ms. Wills said. “This gives them the ability to just be kids and have fun. You’re no longer defined by a disability.”

Students go bowling, see New York City plays and work together on fundraisers, she said.

Club treasurer Ryan Shuford, 15, said he believes the program is important because it helps students with disabilities gain confidence.

“Without the program, they’d be walking by themselves and have no one to talk to throughout the day,” he said.

Ryan was Nick’s buddy last year and said he has enjoyed hanging out together.

“One of the things he likes to do is sing karaoke and, since I’m in chorus, I like to sing so we do that together,” Ryan said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

For more information about the program or to donate, visit the club’s Facebook group, Mattituck Best Buddies.

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