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Seneca Valley welcomes Best Buddies club

| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, 5:36 p.m.

Seneca Valley will welcome a new organization to the high school this school year aimed at fostering friendships and awareness for students with disabilities.

The Seneca Valley School Board approved Best Buddies for club status this month. The district has been on a waiting list to get a chapter of the international organization for about five years, said district transition coordinator Jess Pyle.

Best Buddies is dedicated to establishing one-on-one friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and typical students. There are almost 1,700 chapters at middle schools, high schools and colleges across the world.

Chapters can open only periodically because of the organization's limited resources for training and development, said Best Buddies Pennsylvania program manager Heather Shiwarski. When opportunities open up, Best Buddies looks at schools on the wait list that have student interest and staff and administrative support in place for a strong chapter.

“That's really the key thing. It's simple, but important,” Shiwarski said. “You're committing to a person when you're joining Best Buddies. We want to make sure everyone is trained properly and has the support they need.”

Seneca Valley was notified in the spring of an opening, said Seneca Valley special education director Jerry Miller.

Students with no disabilities, called peer buddies, are paired with students with special needs, called buddies, for an entire school year, Shiwarski said. The pairs are required to meet at least twice a month, although they can meet more often if they'd like.

There are about 40 students signed up to be peer buddies, said Lisa Graham, faculty adviser for the group. Peer buddies will receive training from Best Buddies during the second week of school, and buddies will be paired off later in the fall, she said.

“We tell our students to think of your friendships with your best friend right now, it didn't happen overnight. So think about the things it took to build that friendship,” Shiwarski said. “If you can be a friend to someone, you can be in Best Buddies.”

The school's Best Buddies chapter will host group activities throughout the year for buddies to meet. The pairs can carve out their own time throughout the month to grab dinner, see a movie or go to a sporting event. The hope is to make lasting friendships between the student pairs, Miller said.

“Those friendships are hard to start initially because they appear to be different, but once students get to know each other they grow a true friendship,” Miller said. “They learn there's a lot more similarities than differences.”

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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