CHESHIRE — On June 13, Kathleen Moran said goodbye to Cheshire High School in an emotional graduation ceremony, but she still had one more opportunity to represent a CHS program.
For the third straight year, Moran traveled last month among seven Cheshire High School students to the University of Indiana for the Best Buddies International Leadership Conference. Best Buddies strives to improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“This trip is a life-changing experience,” Moran said.
After participating in the Opening Ceremonies, the CHS contingent of Moran, Christine Anthony, Alec Frione, Kaylee Fell, Paige Kaczmarek, Michael Kozlowski, and Olivia Santoro learned their club would receive the Best High School Chapter in Connecticut Award.
“It was a total surprise for us. We found out Friday night because we had to be there in the morning to get it (the award),” explained Moran. “The honor means so much. We don’t see this club this as a community service project. We volunteer because we love it.”
The students also attended educational sessions with other members from Connecticut. Topics included fundraising and leadership.
On the final day, Cheshire students attended an event called World Cafe. Representatives from the U.S. and other countries were able to talk about their clubs and discus ideas.
“It was a great experience to see what people struggle with and what we can do to make us better,” explained Kozlowski, who will be a high school senior this fall. “We have talked about growing our chapter (at CHS). We are going to take what other chapters have done and bring it to Cheshire.”
Moran takes pride in speaking about what Best Buddies has meant to her life. Since she was in first grade, her family has been involved at Dodd Middle School or the high school.
“It is kind of overwhelming,” said Moran, whose brother Brendan and sister Shannon participated in Best Buddies before her. “It (the legacy) made me want to be like them. Being in Best Buddies with my older sister showed me what I wanted to do in high school.”
As a youngster, Moran helped children with developmental disabilities in Cheshire Parks and Recreation classes.
At the high school, students are paired up as buddies for at least one group activity a month, but many choose to interact on a daily basis.
“Best Buddies is an everyday activity for me,” said Moran.
Alexa Cofrancesco is another recent Cheshire High graduate who enjoyed her experience in Best Buddies.
“My mom is a special ed teacher and I’ve always had a passion for helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Cofrancesco.
In the 2018-19 school year, CHS Best Buddies recruited new members and put an emphasis on inclusion in the student body.
“Seeing people being accepted at a lunch table, basketball and football games, and in the hallway meant so much because I think we were making a difference,” said Moran. “No one was making fun of anyone.”
To raise money for the club, students created t-shirts inspired by the movie “The Incredibles” and sold them to members.
CHS was recognized for raising the most money for the CT Best Buddies Friendship Walk on October 27 at Quinnipiac University’s North Haven campus. Cheshire students set a goal of collecting $5,000, but ended up earning $9,000.
“It was nice to know that our hard work went to a good cause and that the money will be used to fund other Best Buddies programs around the state,” said Cofrancesco.
CHS Best Buddies held a Dunk-A-Cop fundraiser at the 2018 Fall Festival and ran a Duct-Tape-A-Teacher event in October.
“It was amazing to see what we can accomplish and our outreach in the community,” reflected Kozlowski. “We are very well supported by the people around us.”