New program in Grafton helps kids with special needs make friends at school

GRAFTON, OH (WOIO) - Midview High School in Grafton just became one of the first schools in Ohio to implement a program that is changing the lives of millions of people in other parts of the country and around the world.

The "Best Buddies" program is a non-profit organization that promotes opportunities for friendship, employment and leadership for kids and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

In schools, the Best Buddies program pairs kids with special needs with student volunteers who are typically developing.

The paired up "buddies" attend special Best Buddies events, but also, usually end up eating lunch together and doing other school-related activities together through the day.

Some even text each other several times a day.

"I was pretty lonely," said Andrew Westover, a student with special needs who attends Midview High School.

Like other kids with special needs, Andrew said he spent a lot of time, in the past, struggling to make friends.

"It gets really hard at first. When you get to know them a little bit, it actually helps out," added Westover.

Since being paired up with fellow student Meghan Novak, Andrew says his whole school experience has gotten better.

Meghan says she loves being "buddies" with Andrew.

"Andrew is a pretty cool person. Andrew is friends with everyone - Andrew puts a smile on everyone's face," described Meghan.

Since the Best Buddies program began at the end of last year at Midview, other students have taken notice, and started to make more of an effort to be inclusive, according to students and teachers.

"They notice that they are normal teenagers, just like everyone else, and they enjoy the same things, and they have fun playing the same games. It's an awesome opportunity for them to make that realization and to grow as individuals," said Meredith Rocco, an intervention specialist at the school.

"I definitely see a difference in integration between lunch and overall just in school," said Jamison Schroeder, a Midview student who volunteered to be paired up with a special needs student for the program.

Jamison also has a brother with Down syndrome.

"I think it's awesome - having a brother with disabilities, it's great seeing how many people support the club," added Jamison.

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