ShareThis Page

Special-needs students matched with high schoolers on 'You've Got A Friend Day'

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Cindy Severi, a junior at Southmoreland Senior High School, and Harley Povlik, 11, of Norvelt Elementary School, ride in a peddle boat at Twin Lakes Park during the annual “You’ve Got a Friend Day.' High school juniors and seniors are paired one-on-one with 400 special needs students from Westmoreland County. In addition to boat rides, the students accompany the kids on hay rides, pony rides, and at a petting zoo.  (Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review)

With leaves falling to the ground on a cool breeze, Natalie Kovatch helped her “buddy” Ashley from Clairview School to reel in a fishing line at Twin Lakes Park.

“Give it a little tug,” said Kovatch, a senior at Greater Latrobe, but no fish had caught on the line.

Ashley didn't mind, however, smiling as she waved and high-fived her friends passing on the pathway behind her.

The pair were among 1,100 students at the park as a part of You've Got A Friend Day held by Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation.

About 700 special-needs children from 14 different schools and classrooms are matched with 400 high school volunteers representing 10 schools, said Matt Bruno, program coordinator with the department.

After about 15 years, the program has grown, Bruno said, but it still features favorites such as hayrides, paddle boats, magic shows and a petting zoo.

“Everybody just comes out to the park and has fun,” he said. “I know everybody leaves happy from both directions.”

Kovatch said she, Ashley and another buddy, Jared, rode the paddle boats across the lake at the park east of Greensburg, “ate lots of popcorn” and planned to take in the magic show.

“I think it's a great event, and I'd take the time out of my day anytime to do it again,” said Kovatch, who was attending with student council.

Linda Hickman, a classroom assistant at Clairview, said she is glad her students had the opportunity to come to the park. “It's just a nice, calm day for them to enjoy,” she said.

Long lines gave buddies time to interact with students spread out across the shores of the lower lake.

While waiting for balloon animals, Greensburg Salem junior Theodore Russell held on to 6-year-old Nathan and bounced him up and down.

The young boy told his other buddy, Cierra Noel, a Greensburg Salem junior, that he wanted a green sword from the clown.

“I just love to see the kids so happy,” Cierra said.

Mary Jo Holtzer, a teacher from the primary autistic support class at Hutchinson Elementary in Southwest Greensburg, said each year she is impressed with how well the high school students take care of those with special needs.

“They've always been really nice and supportive and helpful with the kids,” she said, adding that she appreciates the social interaction for the seven students she brought to this year's event.

In line for the hay rides, Don Wilcox, a Derry Area senior, was paired with 16-year-old Alyssa and her 18-year-old friend Shannon from Clairview.

The girls chatted with Wilcox, who said he was a little nervous at the beginning of the day.

“I didn't know if I was going to have a cool buddy, but I do, my buddy's awesome,” he said.

Derry Area Interact club adviser Debbie Bushey, who has brought students to the event for more than 10 years, said it teaches students to be patient and selfless, even though it wears them out.

“There's no rest for them. Sometimes that's very tiring emotionally as well as physically,” she said. “It's also amazing because this is not about the high school kids, it's about these buddies.”

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.