The City of Selkirk had help this year from some high school students who decorated the city’s float for the annual Santa’s Parade of Lights and before any judging could take place, it was obvious there were several winners that could be declared.
The students were part of the Comp’s Best Buddies program, which pairs students with intellectual and physical disabilities with other students from the school to participate together in social activities.
Building Peer Relationships
Teacher Ericka Benstead-Teerhuis said Best Buddies is an international program and Selkirk started its chapter this September.
“It’s a social group, essentially, and it’s kids with intellectual or physical disabilities buddied up with peers from the school who do not have a physical or intellectual disability,” she said. “It builds peer relationships for kids that sometimes don’t have those peer relationships.”
There are 12 students in the program, and 13 who’ve volunteered to be Best Buddies. Benstead-Teerhuis said the students get together for activities like making crafts for Halloween, pizza parties or even going out to eat. Going for lunch, sitting together and talking and even just ordering lunch are regular activities for most kids, but may not be for students in the Best Buddies program.
“It’s very typical behaviour of a high school student, to go out with your buddy at lunch, and for our kids that have intellectual disabilities this isn’t a regular occasion for them, so (the lunch outing) was very life-skills based, it was very typical of a high school student,” she said.
When Benstead-Teerhuis and fellow teacher Esther Van Dewalle were contacted by the city to come and help decorate the Christmas float for the Santa Parade of Lights, they jumped at the chance.
“We were lucky enough to be invited to be a part of decorating the parade floats, which was awesome,” Benstead-Teerhuis said. “This was a big day, and a big honour for them to be able to come and be a part of this.”
City continues to partner with organizations
Vanessa Figus, the city’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, said the city has recently rebranded and so incorporating that into the float was important and having the students take part made perfect sense.
“With the new brand it gave us the opportunity to redecorate our float and we always like involving community organizations. We have a great relationship with the schools so we thought we would partner with the Best Buddies program to see if they were interested and they were, so we’re happy to have them on board,” Figus said. “They did a great job.”
The city’s Strategic Plan calls for community engagement to create a vibrant, safe and healthy community and working with the students falls in line with that priority.
Benstead-Teerhuis said all the students are in grades 10-12, so experiences outside the school are important for them – partnering with the City of Selkirk and other organizations goes a long way in providing skills and experiences that can help the students as they transition from student to employee.
“We’re looking towards adulthood now, so we’re getting the students out into the community to see that there’s a life out there bigger than school, and for the community to see that there’s kids that are more than capable of doing jobs in the community,” she said. “Everybody has an ability and it’s not a disability.”
Best Buddies looking to volunteer elsewhere
Van Dewalle said they appreciate the city’s offer to help with decorating the float, and hope others in the community will consider Best Buddies as well. She said the students can do many things, and she encouraged businesses and other groups to contact the school if they’d like to work with the program.
Tasks like cleaning, decorating or putting up posters are some of the things the students can do, but she said they’re open to any opportunities. And with the Christmas season upon us, she said social activities like carolling would be great for the students too.
“Christmas is a big season for a lot of these kids – carolling would be good – to go and raise some spirits,” Van Dewalle said.
If you’re interested in connecting with the Best Buddies, contact Benstead-Teerhuis or Van Dewalle at the Comp at 204-482-6926.