Writer / Leigh Lawson Photographer / Ierlynn Carroll Many interests and areas of focus for the students of Center Grove High School create small communities within the greater school community. Students may rally behind school teams during the season, but it rarely evolves the culture. With the introduction of the club Best Buddies in 2006, an acceptance of differences and embracing commonalities began to grow in the halls of CGHS. Anthony Shriver founded Best Buddies International in 1989, which has grown globally to approximately 1,900 chapters. The chapters promote friendships and mentorships in middle and high schools, colleges and workplaces between those that face Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) and caring volunteers. Best Buddies experience lifelong friendships, develop tangible life skills and become extraordinary examples of leadership and acceptance. In the inaugural year, the CGHS club started with 20 pairs that consist of one student with IDD challenges and a peer student from the general education population. It has grown to 32 pairs for the current school year with additional associate peers or unpaired peers, bringing the club involvement to 120 students. There are peer interviews to evaluate the level of interest and commitment and to best pair Best Buddies. The interviews include the Life Skills teacher/advisors and the club’s student officers. Applicants must be willing to commit to contacting their Buddy at least once a week during the school day and make arrangements for two activities outside of school for the pair. Senior Jordan Etchison is the current club president. Etchison originally joined the club in search for a place to fit in but soon discovered her passion. She plans to continue participating in Best Buddies after graduation through a college chapter and sees her current friendship as a lifelong friendship. Etchison, along with club officers, meet weekly to plan monthly club events, which become highly anticipated by all involved. Cathy Ramsey can testify to the rewards of Best Buddies because of witnessing the impact on her daughter Mary. She knows her daughter’s a sweetheart, and through the club, others are now witnessing it. The club has given Mary the opportunity to socialize and become outgoing and genuinely happy. IDD students often feel isolated. Best Buddies gives them an application to the life skills taught during school, such as communication and social skills. Ramsey tells of many students coming out of their shells and finding joy through friendships. Her dedication extends to being the CGHS parent liaison to Best Buddies of Indiana. The club’s purpose of understanding differences and embracing what is common has spread throughout CGHS. The general education population receives an introduction to IDD students through the peers, while IDD students gain confidence. Life Skills teachers have noticed how all of the students have become more accepting of each other with the help of the club. The interactions of her students with the other students sometimes surprises Life Skills teacher Sue Larmore. The general education students witness the friendships forged in the club and the passion of the peers for the club. In turn, inclusiveness for all and unifying of the student body is occurring through the celebration of everyone’s unique gifts. Everyone in CGHS Best Buddies invests emotionally because they know the great difference it makes in the lives of those directly and indirectly involved. They witness a withdrawn student blossom into an outgoing student full of joy. It is a club ministering to a need through social interaction. While fundraising is limited, there is a need to help host the monthly activities. The club accepts donations, made through the school by inquiring from the Life Skills faculty. The donations support club activities and assist in cultural change of acceptance and unity.