AHS special education students looking for some Best Buddies | AspenTimes.com

AHS special education students looking for some Best Buddies

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

In the weeks before Christmas, a small group of Aspen High School students prepared themselves for the hectic holiday shopping season ahead.

The students, members of the AHS special education class, worked with teachers, paraprofessionals and volunteers on a number of mall-related topics: coin identification, bill exchange and a few hypothetical shopping situations.

A trip to the mall might seem simple to students in Aspen High’s mainstream classrooms, but it’s just one of many day-to-day challenges the special education students ? children with autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities ? must face.

AHS junior Jenna Rosen, who volunteers for the special needs class, spends one class period per day working with students and helping them face these challenges. And, with the help of Best Buddies, an international nonprofit organization, Rosen hopes to include other local residents willing to help.

“I would love to give these students the opportunity to connect with other children outside their classroom,” Rosen wrote in a letter to The Aspen Times last month.

Though Aspen High’s special needs students also spend half their school day in mainstream classrooms, they aren’t given enough opportunity to mingle with their peers, said Enid Hurtado, a special education paraprofessional.

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“They only get to interact, mostly, with kids who have disabilities like them,” she said.

Best Buddies, on the other hand, encourages the developmentally disabled to meet a wider group of people.

The nonprofit was founded in 1989, in part, as an offshoot of the Special Olympics. With a mission statement that promotes the organization’s quest “to establish friendships and secure competitive jobs” for the developmentally disabled, Best Buddies has gained popularity as a specialized companionship program.

The organization operates much like the popular Buddy Program ? matched pairs of a disabled person and a nondisabled person make outings about once a week, taking part in any number of community activities.

Today, the group caters to nearly 20,000 participants at 800 middle schools, high schools and colleges in four countries. Best Buddies has even established an Internet version of its program with e-Buddies, an e-mail pen pal system.

While Colorado has three separate Best Buddies programs set up for college-aged volunteers and participants ? all three are in the Denver area ? one has not been established for high school- or middle school-aged residents.

“There’s no office in Colorado yet, and we can’t start the program unless they get one,” Rosen said.

Rosen’s fund-raisers need about $125,000 to get the program off the ground ? enough money to keep Best Buddies going for the first three years.

However, this amount has been calculated in the hopes that someone will donate office space, and the price will almost double if the Best Buddies group must rent out its own headquarters in downtown Aspen.

Once an office has been established, Rosen said, Best Buddies headquarters will dispatch experts to train volunteers and get the program rolling.

Though Rosen and the rest of the AHS special education community are on the lookout for a good Samaritan with deep pockets, they’re also hoping for guidance. In her letter to the Times, Rosen requested anyone with fund-raising experience ? or any interest in donating to the Best Buddies campaign ? to contact her at JennaRosen@aol.com with their advice.

“I am looking for ideas concerning the raising of money, donations, or fund-raising support to make the Best Buddies program a part of our Roaring Fork Valley,” Rosen wrote. “I will need the support of the entire community, which could extend statewide.”

For more information on the Best Buddies, visit http://www.bestbuddies.org

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]