Best Buddies have spent this school year promoting kindness and inclusion through events like match parties and kindness campaigns. The club, celebrating their annual end of year luau, used the event to send off graduating seniors and those aging out of the school system.
“I’ve already cried three times since I got here,” Best Buddies Secretary Ashley Melgar said. “It’s definitely bittersweet. Coming here kind of means it’s the end of an era for me as I graduate.”
Dressed in straw skirts and sporting colorful leis, attendees danced to the blaring speakers in the Hawaiian-themed cafeteria. As the celebration carried on, food was distributed and conversations were carried out as the Buddies reminisced over the past year.
A new addition to the annual tradition of hosting the luau was the attendance of two new guests, Broward County Best Buddies Program Manager Monica Moya and JetBlue Community Hour Manager Owen Gaither. Both assisted members in running the event.
“Best Buddies is not separating or putting other folks into groups but it is actually bringing people together.”
Gaither came out to support the event with food donations from JetBlue Airways. Having heard of the club through a coincidental meeting with storage unit owners, Gaither was put in touch with Best Buddies and has been working to provide assistance to clubs within the region. Gaither also helped with the Best Buddies friendship walk.
“It’s the best program ever,” Gaither said. “Sometimes all you need is a friend and not to be ostracized. Best Buddies is not separating or putting other folks into groups but it is actually bringing people together.”
Throughout the night, guests partook in cornhole games and rounds of limbo in between bouts of dancing. Just before the event came to a close, the club officers gathered the group for a surprise. The board printed out and framed pictures of each pair of buddies to take home as a reminder of their time spent together that year.
“This is a fun end of the year wrap-up and I think it is important [for the Best Buddies] to have that final goodbye activity with their friends,” Best Buddies adviser Nicole Hicks said. “Just watching the kids hang out and receive their pictures in a fun, unstructured [and] stress-free environment is great.”
“The past four years have taught me to be a voice for those who don’t have one.”
After passing out frames to members, Hicks was presented with a tearful speech given by Melgar and a picture frame of her own. As students left the campus they took with them not just the material possessions they received from their time with the club, but their experiences as well.
“The past four years have taught me to be a voice for those who don’t have one,” Melgar said. “One of my favorite memories is of each Special Olympics. Seeing how happy everyone is makes everything totally worth it.”
Though Melgar is graduating, she is attending Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and is planning to come back to CCHS and visit the Best Buddies as often as possible.
“I won’t be too far,” Melgar said. “I can’t leave them already.”
Photo by Sarah Khan