WESTBOROUGH — The Westborough High School Best Buddies chapter was named the national high school chapter of the year at Best Buddies International’s 28th annual leadership conference, held at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, held July 21 – 24.
Best Buddies International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In each chapter of Best Buddies, club members participate in events in the community and spend time together.
Four students, Gia Bellofatto, Joseph Bellofatto, Mary Kate Lehman and Alana Spiro, advisor Angelina Corazzini and parent Flora Bellofatto represented the school’s 74 members at the conference, which had previously been named the the Massachusetts State Outstanding Chapter of the Year.
The Massachusetts State award recognizes a chapter for their outstanding demonstration of love, friendship, and inclusion. After receiving this award, the chapter completed an application for the National Chapter of the Year, and described in detail our chapter involvement, friendship pairs, and chapter events.
The Westborough High School Chapter hosts events throughout the year that promote inclusion and friendship, ranging from movie nights, to bowling, to writing notes of kindness to spread around the school after midterms. The club aims to create an atmosphere where students can be themselves and bring out the best in each other. Many students in the chapter consider their buddy to be their best friend and will treasure that friendship forever.
The conference featured keynote speakers celebrating inclusion, classroom sessions, and dancing. Because they were named the national chapter of the year, the Westborough students also got to meet the founder of Best Buddies, Anthony K. Shriver as well as Tom Brady’s buddy, Katie Meade. She is the first Beauty Spoken model with Down Syndrome.
The Westborough students were inspired by the conference, and each took something different away that they plan to implement when they return to school in the fall.
“I hope that the WHS chapter of Best Buddies can get the whole community involved in our mission, from the High School to preschools to nursing centers, and everything in between, Mary Kate Lehman said. “I want to pass the torch by being an example of how to live the Best Buddies way, and I want people younger than me to feel comfortable and empowered enough to take over big leadership positions. I think that Westborough can pass the torch to other towns and challenge them to promote the acceptance and inclusion of all people as well because we all have disabilities, some are simply more severe than others.”
“Spending countless hours in the classroom truly gave me many ideas on how to better our chapter,” Alana Spiro said. “Furthermore, the theme of the conference: Pass the Torch, was very fitting as to say, Best Buddies is advocating for the Buddies, hence those are the people who we are passing the torch to! I have taken a lot away from the conference, and a way that I can pass the torch is to make sure the students with special abilities are leading the club, as they are the most inspirational people I know, and can easily take hold of our chapter and bring it to new heights and successes.”
“The biggest thing I learned was how important it is to work with the greater Best Buddies community, rather than just Westborough,” Joseph Bellofatto said. “I learned about how the programs communicate with each other to plan large events. t is extremely important to work together as a state because it informs more people of the Best Buddies message and work. When chapters work together events are more successful and enjoyable.”
For parent Flora Bellofatto, the conference had a slightly different impact.
“To be in an environment where 2,300 students and adults who had dedicated themselves to promoting inclusion and acceptance of individuals like my daughter, not only in her school, but across the country was overwhelming,” she said. “My daughter had the unwavering support of her friends from Westborough and her brother throughout the weekend and made dozens of new connections with students across the state and around the country. Watching these students reach out to my daughter with acceptance and friendship brought her immeasurable joy.”
Advisor Angelina Corazzini attended the conference’s advisor track and came away with lots of ideas to help the club continue to thrive.
“All of the success stories had common themes; people in the community working together to create inclusion, acceptance, and to promote friendships for individuals of all abilities,” she said. “I left the conference with several new strategies to involve families, fundraising tips and ideas for community awareness events and came away from the conference with a renewed passion for educating my school and community on ways to facilitate friendships/relationships, spread awareness for inclusion and create opportunities for integrated employment.”
Corazzini said that the club will be marching in the town’s 300th anniversary parade in September and holding its annual match party, where the club’s officers and advisors work to determine the best one to one buddy pairings.
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