For Olympic Heights High School students Jacob Pasternack and Andrew Chea, the phrase “Best Buddies” carries an extra special meeting. Their story goes back to first grade; Jacob met Andrew, who has down syndrome, when they shared the same class.
“In first grade, we just kind of came together. I’d play with him on the playground all the time, we’d be shoulder to shoulder throughout all the field trips and all the events, and I’d help him with his schoolwork,” Jacob shares.
When Andrew approached him during their freshman year at Olympic Heights suggesting he join the Best Buddies program, it was a no-brainer for Jacob.
“Even though I wasn’t planning on joining a club, I took a look at a flyer, took a look at his face, and I realized that I haven’t let him down up to this point and I wasn’t going to start,” he said.
The Best Buddies program is an international organization that serves to create one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At the school level, the program hones in on the creation of one-to-one friendships, special bonds that benefit all club members.
“The kids have a blast, I see it in their eyes and see it in their faces, and [it’s] watching not only the transformation of the buddies with their social confidence, but with my friends and how they’ve become so much more tolerant,” Jacob shares.
Over the next few years, the boys’ friendship and club involvement grew, with Jacob taking on the role of Club president. During this year’s Best Buddies Leadership Conference at Indiana University Bloomington, the Olympic Heights Best Buddies program won both the Chapter of the Year award for Palm Beach County and the International Pacesetter Award, which is given to just 10 chapters worldwide. Of the program’s success and the relationships forged between students, Jacob has an important message to share:
“No one is taught hate. Everyone has the potential to be kind, everyone has the potential to love and to have acceptance. So our job is really unlocking that inside people, and showing them how great these buddies really are.”
Click play below to see Olympic Heights’ Best Buddies program in action.