Written by: Emily Chao, Amanda Wu & Aaron Zhou, FCSN Voices Youth Reporters
Graphics by: Roshni Gundavelli, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist
On January 12, MSJ Best Buddies collaborated with FCSN to host a friendship bracelet making session. The event welcomed all students on campus, and served as an opportunity for the rest of the student body to interact with peers in special needs programs. Students were satisfied with the event, where lively music played in the background as the officers worked with participants and buddies to create the bracelets.
Through an inclusive outlook, Best Buddies aims to develop the individual passions of neurodivergent students. Aside from interactive handcrafting, the buddies particularly enjoy listening and dancing to upbeat music – just like their peers. According to MSJ Best Buddies Activities Coordinator Junior Audrey Wang, members of the organization collaborated with the school’s performance committee to host a homecoming kickoff dance and performed with the students during their holiday PE dance performance unit. “I think they really like to communicate through dance, since they can be super energetic,” Wang said. “Which is really, really cool.”
Mission San Jose High School’s Best Buddies Program (MSJ Best Buddies) Secretary Junior Ashley Lin started volunteering for the organization in 2019. When Lin first joined the organization, she was impressed by the enthusiasm of the children within the program. “When I first joined, we did a show-and-tell where the buddies got to share a toy that they really liked. That was really interesting and fun,” Lin said.
Another branch of Best Buddies can be found at Northgate High School’s Best Buddies Club. To President Sophomore Serafine Hwang, “At Northgate, the club manifests the mission of the organization through spending time with our special needs program to provide more opportunities for connections with other students,” she said. Hwang first heard about the organization through the school’s club rush and decided to sign up after feeling bad for taking candy offered by the officers then. She ended up “really enjoying being there; it was a really good environment,” explained Hwang. Looking more into the organization, she found herself thinking, “Wow, I really want to be a part of that [mission].” With the then active officers of the club graduating, Hwang found herself nominated as President and stepped up to the role in hopes of continuing the club.
While a majority of the community labels neurodivergent students with the term “special”, Best Buddies strives to change this perspective. According to Lin, humans have the natural tendency to isolate their peers simply due to behavioral and attentive differences. To increase attention towards the voices of neurodivergent students, high school branches frequently organize school-wide events that provide opportunities for students to interact with their special peers.
Members of Best Buddies often encounter communication difficulties with neurodivergent students. However, while accounting for communication barriers seems difficult, patience and reflective enthusiasm establish a comfortable environment for the buddies as well as the joy of supporting peers despite their differences for volunteers. “A lot of them [neurodivergent students] communicate differently, so sometimes it is a bit difficult figuring out what they are really asking and what they want, but once you get to know them more, it becomes easier to interpret what they are saying. You need to be patient and listen to them,” Hwang exclaimed.
Despite being an international organization with more than 30 years of active service, Best Buddies constantly appreciates new members joining the cause of alleviating the differences of neurodivergent students. The organization contains high school branches run by members of the student body that supports neurodivergent peers within communities around the world. Local branches including MSJ Best Buddies are also constantly initiating and planning fundraisers and events to spread awareness of the organization’s perspective around the world. “We definitely hope to gain more support from the rest of the community,” Wang said.