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With A Little Help From Her Friends

Baldwin High School students share the magic of Best Buddies Hawai‘i.

November 12, 2009
Sarah Ruppenthal

“Rachel is a sweet, loving girl who has this charm that I can’t describe—because words can’t describe it,” said Heather. “I really feel like her older sister that she truly depends on, and I know she’s very happy to be my buddy.”

According to Mike McCormick, state director for Best Buddies Hawai‘i, Rachel is not only intellectually disabled, but she also has a condition called Kyphoscoliosis. The National Institute for Health defines Kyphoscoliosis as a combination of kyphosis, or a curving of the spine that causes a bowing of the back, with scoliosis, a condition in which the spine curves away from the middle, or sideways. McCormick said Rachel was operated on years ago in Honolulu, but with mixed results. However, doctors told her there was a new surgical procedure and treatment that could help the condition, and although it was described as a “very difficult” operation, Rachel bravely traveled to the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, Penn., to undergo two surgeries.

Before she left, chapter members held a special going away party for Rachel, who was matched up with her new peer buddy, Heather, who is also the chapter’s new vice president. Rachel’s former peer buddy, Katie Talbot, graduated in June, so chapter members were intent on matching her with a new friend before she left for Philadelphia—holding the annual “Matching Party” earlier than usual.

Article Photos

Baldwin High School students Rachel Barrett and Heather Paranada are part of a special circle of friends.

“When I first was introduced to Rachel at the special matching party, I was thrilled,” said Heather. “It was a very special moment because I knew that this friendship was going to be the best one yet.”

At their first meeting, Heather presented Rachel with a teddy bear, necklace and bracelet to take on her trip and comfort her throughout her surgeries. “I wasn’t able to say bye to her at the airport before she left, but I did call her to say goodbye and she was sad,” she said. “But I told her it’s not goodbye, it’s ‘see you later.’”

Although she has only known Rachel for a short time, Heather is very concerned for her new friend—and is looking forward to her return home from the East Coast. “I’ve been emailing her since she left, and Mrs. Barrett has been updating all of us of Rachel’s condition,” she said. “Everyone at Best Buddies is really pulling for Rachel and awaiting her return to Maui,” said McCormick. “They are following Rachel’s progress very closely.”

Rachel had her second operation on Oct. 21. Everything went well at first, and then one of Rachel’s lungs collapsed. Rachel was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for 12 days and has finally started to recover. On Wednesday, Nov. 4, Rachel was released from ICU and is back in her own room.

Rachel and her mother are both anxious to return to the warm weather on Maui, where Rachel will begin her physical therapy.

This is just one example of the magic created by Best Buddies, an international organization that is 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. On Maui, the program has flourished at Maui High School, King Kekaulike High School, Baldwin High School and Lokelani Intermediate School. The Best Buddies high school and intermediate school programs help encourage students to become community leaders. These student leaders are not only from general education classes, but also from special education classes.

At the last Matching Party, 19 new buddy pairs were matched for the school year, including Heather and Rachel. McCormick said this year, twice as many male students at Baldwin High School have signed up for the program.

“This is really good news and it shows the popularity of the program is growing with male students who were a little shy to join the first year,” he said. “Overall enrollment in Best Buddies is up at all schools participating in the program.”

According to McCormick, during the 2007-08 school year, there were more than 2,700 students (ages 6 to 21) with mental retardation, autism and multiple disabilities enrolled in Hawai‘i’s schools. This is the population Best Buddies serves, he said, noting there is no other organization in the state that provides socialization and life skills development for youth with intellectual or developmental disabilities through one-to-one friendships.



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