My 18-year-old son’s name is Mason. I’ve been raising him since he was 6 years old and adopted him a few months after his father passed away 3 years ago. Mason has Autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and is non-verbal, speaking fluent gibberish. He is currently a senior at Hamilton High School in Sussex, WI, and is a loving, caring soul that has captured the hearts of all who know him. He loves HHS and is often seen wearing the hand-me-down and leftover football or basketball tee shirts that have been given to him. Every day he enthusiastically runs out the front door to start his school day.
This is Mason’s third year in Hamilton’s Best Buddies program. Best Buddies is an organization 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. Hamilton High School welcomed Best Buddies during the 2015-2016 school year.
Mason was matched with Best Buddy Sam Herriges the first year, a young man named Erik the second, and a young lady by the name of Harper for the current school year. He has attended dances, school sporting events, and in general, hung out and watched movies, listened to music, or grabbed a burger at the local Culvers.
Mason, as is the case with many young folks with Autism or IDD, does not have the option of texting friends to meet up with them or simply ask to go hang out. Best Buddies has opened up that opportunity for Mason to expand his network and be with friends as any normal teen would. He loves cruising and singing with Sam and Erik while jamming to Fallout Boy’s Immortal, and swiping Erik’s fried cheese curds at Culvers. He is thrilled every time Sam calls him on FaceTime from college in Minnesota and is left with a long lasting smile. He’s not much to engage in meaningful conversation but the ear-to-ear grin and body “stims” speak volumes.
Best Buddies has turned out to be a great opportunity for Mason to socialize and do things he normally would be excluded from in high school. Next weekend he is off to another dance to enjoy another passion of his.
Mason, and so many others like him, thrive through this program but they need our help to continue to grow this to bring kids that used to be shunned and parked in back room of our schools out into the mix. To be a part of high school. To teach others how to interact with those with special needs. To simply be a normal kid when, in all actuality, many are not. Life will be long and hard for Mason with his disabilities, but his high school experience got immeasurably better when Best Buddies entered his life. Please consider helping spread this to all Wisconsin schools.
And many thanks to HSA Bank, a division of Webster Bank, for allowing me the opportunity to be of service to Best Buddies on this special day. Such a great and giving organization, one I’m proud to have recently joined.