ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Middle school can be a rough and lonely place, especially for kids who are different, but a program at one middle school is changing that with the buddy system.
Desert Ridge Middle School in the Heights is the only middle school in New Mexico that’s part of the Best Buddies New Mexico program. At the middle school level, the non-profit helps kids with intellectual or development disabilities by pairing them up with a fellow classmate.
On Friday, students who participate in the program took a trip to Tim’s Place, the nationally-known restaurant owned by Tim Harris, who has Down syndrome.
“I had a dream to own a restaurant, and my dreams came true. I want other kids to follow their dreams like I did for mine,” said Tim.
Caleb Marra and Beau Nellos are “best buddies.”
“We met each other during basketball tryouts,” said Nellos.
Their bond is genuine said Marra, who mentors Nellos. “Being with this guy has changed my life, and I’ve only known him for like three months,” said Marra.
Jessie MacFarland, a school social worker and special education coordinator for Best Buddies at Desert Ridge Middle School, said, “I think there’s very few places in the world as lonely as a middle school cafeteria.”
“We have 28 buddy matches, which far exceeded our expectations,” said MacFarland.
Haley Hankins, a student at Desert Ridge, said, “We’re a perfect match.” She is partnered with Tommy Martinez. “It feels good because I know they’ll be there for me through thick and thin,” said Martinez.
“When I met Tommy and I found out he was going to be my partner, I was ecstatic,” said Hankins.
James Kennedy, another student, said, “I think it will benefit greatly.” Dru Martinez looks after James. “It’s fun making a new friend, and it benefits both of us, and I make a friend and he makes a friend,” she said.
In the end, their lives are enriched, and the students said they wouldn’t have it another other way.
“For all the kids out there who think that people involved with a person with a disorder is like, ‘Oh man, I’m too cool for that, I’m too cool for that, I’m too cool,’ you’re not, I guarantee you are not,” said Marra.
The Best Buddies program is active at nine high schools: Atrisco Heritage Academy, Cibola, Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, Eldorado, La Cueva, Manzano, Sandia, and Volcano Vista in Albuquerque and also at Rio Rancho High School.