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Home Education Better Together in the Best Buddies Program

Better Together in the Best Buddies Program

Layla Tiberio is a senior at Northeast High School. She plays flute in the concert band, is captain of the varsity swim team, and works as a lifeguard and swim instructor at North Arundel Aquatic Center.

To say she is busy is an understatement, but she always has time for her friends. Especially a special friend named Bryan Knipp. His happiness and positive attitude always puts her in a good mood.

Layla met Bryan, a student with Down Syndrome, through her school’s Unified Tennis program. Then Layla’s mom, a social worker, introduced her to a program called Best Buddies, a nonprofit that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The combination of the two inspired her to start a Best Buddies chapter at Northeast the summer before her junior year, under the direction of a faculty advisor. “It was truly because of Bryan that I started the Best Buddies Club, because I wanted others to experience a lasting friendship just like ours,” says Layla.52641278 2012768972352664 6584897425612210176 n

At Northeast, the chapter fosters these interactions through a variety of activities, including monthly meetings and outings such as bowling, karaoke, and ice cream parties. The group also participates in community outreach throughout the year in events such as the school’s Trunk or Treat at Halloween and hosting “Friendsgiving” during Thanksgiving time. During the club’s first there were 15 student pairings. Layla was thrilled that number has more than doubled this year.

“This month, we have one of our biggest events coming up called Spread the Word to End the Word,” says Layla, “we are having students pledge that they will not say the R-word so that we can celebrate inclusion and acceptance. After all, I believe that students shouldn’t be defined by their disabilities, but rather celebrated [for] the special abilities that they have.”

In Maryland there are 115 schools that have a Best Buddies chapter. Vince Fiduccia, state director for Best Buddies Maryland, says “Currently we have over 5,000 participants statewide, this includes both those with and without disabilities. There are programs in middle schools, high schools, colleges and even a few elementary schools.”

Layla and Bryan are happy to be ambassadors for the program and recently served as “sous chefs” at Tastebuds, an annual fundraising event for Best Buddies Maryland. “Not only were we were able to represent Best Buddies Maryland, but also shuck oyster shells open and eat lots of food, which is one of our favorite activities,” says Layla. “We have also had the opportunity to speak to the Best Buddies Committee about our lasting friendship and the benefits of the program.”

Layla will be attending Salisbury University in the fall to pursue a double major in Psychology and Exercise Science. She hopes to become a physical therapist for people with special needs. She knows her friendship with Bryan will last long beyond graduation. “Bryan continues to inspire me every single day and has made me a better person.”

Bryan agrees, “Me and Layla are best buddies,” he says. “I love being part of Best Buddies with her because we’ve done taste buds, bowling, pizza parties, and we do ambassador speeches together. Me and Layla hang out together and we also text and talk on the phone.”

Best Buddies programs are run with support from a faculty advisor and training and development from the staff at Best Buddies Maryland. If you would like more information about starting a Best Buddies chapter at your school, contact Julia Rodricks at juliarodricks@bestbuddies.org.

—Joyce Heid


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