By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport high school junior Emma Adams likes making new friends and, three years ago she began making some very special ones indeed.
“I’ve always seen the kids in the hallways and they are the sweetest kids you’ll ever meet,” Adams said of the members of the high school’s Best Buddies group. “They always say, ‘hi’ even when you don’t know them. So, I just wanted to check it out. I went to the first meeting and it was absolutely amazing. It blew my mind.”
Best Buddies is a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“These kids are not seen as equals (by other students),” Adams said. “They are not seen like you and me, and that really needs to change because they are. They are just like you and me. I’m sure everybody is different. So that doesn’t seem to make sense to me.”
To do more to help her friends, Adams became the chapter’s vice president this year. In the fall, she will assume the role as president, replacing senior Alex Edwards, who joined the chapter because she believes people should embrace one another’s differences.
“I know that, when I started Best Buddies, I was a little shy talking to the Buddies,” she said. “I didn’t know necessarily how to talk to them. But then you realize that they are just people and it just became so much easier and I’ve built some pretty solid relationships with some of these kids. I see people in a completely different light now. I don’t think I was very open-minded when I first came here. This has given me an opportunity to be friends with all of these kids and I think I see now that, just because someone has a disability, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be a beautiful person.”
Edwards also became a Unified Partner with Special Olympics this past spring and as Best Buddies president, has done a lot of outreach, with a Parents’ Night and Thanksgiving Feast, as well as creating student one-on-one pairs.
“Last year, we kind of let the chapter slip a lot,” she said. “This year, I wanted to let the parents know that we were going to do a lot more. Try to get them more involved.”
Edwards says that budding artists might be interested in the Buddies’ latest fundraiser, the Canvas Roadshow. Visitors will be led step-by-step by local artists in painting pictures from canvas to final product. The Roadshow will take place at the high school tomorrow at 2 p.m.
“You’ll get a very nice canvas,” Adams said. “(The artists) will teach you how to paint and their techniques. You can also expect to come home with an open mind.”
Some of the Buddies themselves will also be on hand to welcome visitors.
“They are probably some of the nicest kids I’ve ever met, Edwards added. “So they’ll be saying ‘hi’ to everybody and helping us to tell everyone what Best Buddies is all about.”
Adams is already planning fundraisers for next year, including a pasta party to start the year, and she is also planning to organize some bake sales. As Edwards prepares to graduate, she is grateful for what Best Buddies has given her.
“It’s a very new experience, but it is so, so worthwhile,” she said. “I would not be who I am today without meeting all of these friends and building the relationships that I have.”