Patty McQuone’s brother was born deaf. As a high school student in Wisconsin, she taught a Down Syndrome student how to use sign language.
So it was natural that 4 years ago, when Sandy Dressler stepped down as adviser to Staples’ chapter of Best Buddies — an international organization fostering 1-on-1 friendships between intellectually and developmentally disabled students, and their classmates — she’d agree to take over.
What Patty — the very popular attendance secretary and front desk face-of-the-school-to-the-public — did not expect was to become so intimately involved with the club, its IDD students, and their “buddies.”
In fact, it’s become one of the passions of her life.
“I didn’t realize then how big or good Best Buddies was,” Patty says.
Under her leadership, the Staples chapter has gotten even bigger and better.
Weekly meetings feature a wide variety of teenagers hanging out, playing games and talking.
They sponsor the “Best Buddies Ball,” a high-energy, very fun dance that draws IDD students and typical education kids from nearly a dozen area towns.
Group members rake leaves at CLASP Homes in Westport. They bake holiday pies and cookies for the ABC House and Project Return. They take part in Friendship Walks (and have raised more money than any other fundraising group in the state), and present a very popular fashion show.
In addition, each IDD student has a specific “buddy.” They connect by email, text or phone at least once a week. They meet at least twice a month too, for movies, ice cream, or at each other’s homes.
“These kids are awesome!” Patty says. “It’s great to hang out with all of them.”
It does not take long, she notes, for typical education students to understand that the IDD teens are “just like anyone else.” Best Buddies members “really get the idea of inclusion, acceptance and friendships.”
Last month, a popular 11th grade girl invited an IDD boy to the junior prom. Both had a fantastic time, Patty says.
Her favorite part of the Staples day is right before school begins. Club members greet her with joy. “Even the non-verbal kids smile, or give me a high 5. That’s great!”
Patty steps down this month as official club adviser. But, she promises, “I’ll still be involved. I can’t give up something like this!”