Teen-led Greyhound Buddies program pairs Lyman students with their special-needs peers to promote inclusion and opportunity for all.
Some of the seemingly smallest initiatives can often make the biggest impact.
At Lyman High School, for example, the Greyhound Buddies program didn’t even begin as a formal campus campaign. It started as a class project to help Lyman students with special needs, but it’s quickly building big momentum.
About 100 students are now part of the Greyhound Buddies group, which connects students with disabilities and those without disabilities on a regular basis to learn, socialize, and grow with one another.
Greyhound Buddies started last year as a project by then-junior Angel Stumberg, who set out to make a video about students interacting with one another despite their differences. Elana Hand, Lyman’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) specialist and the program’s faculty advisor, says Angel’s project became part of a larger theme, “a look at a way to improve community.”
Current sophomores Morgan Worthy and Olivia Heintzen were on board from the beginning.
“It seemed like a cool concept, well developed,” says Olivia.
As the effort morphed from project to program, the Greyhound Buddies name was chosen. Morgan says the early Buddies set up a booth at the school’s Club Night, seeking more volunteers to come spend time with Lyman students who could use, well, a Buddy.
Now Greyhound Buddies participants spend their lunch periods in ESE classrooms, participating in crafts, parties, and other activities while they share their mealtime with students who have physical or developmental challenges, such as autism.
Angel first began working with young people with disabilities as part of a respite drop-off program at her church. Every month, the church recruited supervised volunteers like Angel to spend time with special-needs children and their siblings so parents or caretakers could get a break.
Olivia, meanwhile, has some family members with disabilities. For Morgan, Greyhound Buddies brought her first real opportunity to interact with people with disabilities. It has helped her and other students realize what it must be like to cope with physical or developmental differences on a daily basis.
“It takes a lot,” Morgan says, describing her new awareness about mobility and communication challenges faced by those with special needs. “These are things we take for granted.”
As the program has progressed, Greyhound Buddies have gotten to know their special-needs peers on a personal level, and Lyman students who may have been marginalized are now proudly taking their place in the campus community. Miguel Reyes-Zapata, an 11th grader, loves to dance, for instance. Jade Whitney, a freshman, enjoys painting and other crafts. Tenth grader Gabriel Garcia has become more open and less quiet over time.
“They are getting used to interacting,” says Elana, and the bonds between students are growing.
Morgan, Olivia, and Angel do admit some volunteers were nervous at first, not knowing what to expect.
“They looked so uncomfortable,” says Angel. “I like to teach people and help them out; it was great. They started out so shy and now just jump in and help us out. It can happen quickly.”
In addition to school support, the local community has chipped in, as well. Publix, for example, has donated baked goods to the group’s parties.
As for what’s ahead, Angel plans more publicity for the Greyhound Buddies. Long term, she’d like to study special-needs education in college and eventually become a first-grade teacher.
“The program has taken off, and the leaders of this organization are doing incredible work to help our special-needs students feel as loved, supported, and included as our regular-education students,” says Mike Rice, Lyman’s principal. “This organization truly embodies our theme of Everyone Matters."
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