Toll Gate Best Buddies earn top state honors
Danielle Roberts and Sara Morris, students at Toll Gate High School who are part of the Best Buddies program, a volunteer initiative that pairs intellectually and developmentally disabled students with other students to create one-on-one friendships and better integrate those with disabilities, are thrilled about some of the recent events they’ve attended to raise awareness about the cause.
In March, nearly 50 Toll Gate students and staff members attended the Best Buddies Ball at Corrine’s at 1593 Newport Avenue in Pawtucket to receive accolades and enjoy the accomplishments they’ve made through the program.
“We danced and I wore a dress,” said Roberts.
To their surprise, they were named “Outstanding Chapter of the Year” by the program.
“I was so excited,” Morris said of the award. “We do so many fun things and not everyone sees the hard work that we do. So many people come up to me all the time and say, ‘My kid has a better life because you do this at Toll Gate.’ It’s incredible to hear that.”
Morris, this year’s president of Best Buddies, has been a member of the program since its inception about a year and a half ago. She said while she has taken part in many activities in school through the years, Best Buddies is her all-time favorite.
“Around school, everyone knows me as the ‘Best Buddies Girl,’” said Morris. “It’s not a huge organization yet, so not many people know about it, but as soon as people hear about it and learn how enriching it is, they’re like, ‘Oh, my God. That’s the best thing I ever heard.’ It’s easier to get support if people know what it is.”
In addition to the award, the 60 student members of the program recently held a fundraiser walk around Garden City to benefit Best Buddies. They raised nearly $4,000, which will help fund students’ airline tickets for July’s Best Buddies International Leadership Conference in Indiana.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Carol Allen, intensive special education teacher as well as advisor for Best Buddies. “Sara and the board were very motivated.”
Also, said Allen, Morris raised the most individual amount, as she contributed $1,450.
While Morris wasn’t planning to attend the conference, which consists of classes and seminars to guide upcoming chapter presidents from more than 40 countries from around the world, officers and board members through planning events and fundraisers, she was pleasantly surprised that Roberts’ parents, Ken and Cindy, are funding her trip as a graduation gift, as she will be heading off to Stonehill College in Massachusetts in the fall.
“They are like my second family and I think it’s the sweetest thing,” said Morris, who is looking forward to the event because she thinks it’s “cool to be around people from all around the world who believe in the same thing as you.” She went on to say, “It’s really exciting.”
Another “exciting” event the girls attended was Roberts’ junior prom at the Quidnessett Country Club, as well as the first ever prom at the Trudeau Center.
“Danielle is always happy and she’s very funny,” Morris said. “Even when I’m having a bad day or if something is going wrong, she’s always perky and silly and that makes me happy.”
Before she heads off to college to study either special education or international relations and foreign languages, Morris offered some advice to students who are thinking about becoming Best Buddies. It isn’t for everyone, she said, but those who do join won’t regret it.
“I would say that’s it’s the most enriching thing that I’ve done in my whole life,” said Morris. “Before Best Buddies, a lot of the kids who are in special classes never got a phone call from a friend, went to a dance or a movie. They were just never cultivated. They used to be secluded at school and now me and Danielle are together all the time.”
“It has been very rewarding seeing the growth and different skills the students are all learning,” she said.