Westfield High School Senior Encourages Classmates to Lead By Example

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When Westfield High School senior Jacob Roberts joined the Best Buddies club in middle school, he had a very personal motive for doing so. At that time, he had no idea that five years later, he would be the club’s president. The self-proclaimed shy and quiet student has become a champion for promoting inclusion and recently led a convocation to encourage his peers to respect people of all different ability levels.

“I originally joined Best Buddies in eighth grade at the middle school. I had just gotten news that my brother was going to be born with Down Syndrome,” Roberts says. “So, I really joined just to figure out how to treat him since he would be different. Throughout that year and my freshman year, I learned so much more about Best Buddies.”

Roberts continues, “I learned that my original thinking was completely wrong and I believed the wrong mission. The mission of Best Buddies is to end the social, physical, and economic discrimination of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We include and accept people for who they are and simply just be friends.”

Westfield High School is among many schools both nationwide and internationally that offer the Best Buddies program as a student activity. Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are paired with a regular education peer. The club typically meets on Fridays during the CORE Advisory period. Activities are organized and foster growing friendships between each buddy pair. On Oct. 29, Roberts organized and led a special Best Buddies presentation in the school auditorium that was attended by more than 300 students.

“Finn McKenna is a senior buddy who moved to Westfield from California last year,” Roberts says. “Being like every new student that moves, he didn’t have many friends at first. He would sit through lunch without saying a single word. Then he decided to join Best Buddies after someone came into his class and talked to them about the club.

“He got to meet so many people that truly cared for him and they gave him the confidence to be social and go make more friends. They even gave him the confidence to go up on stage and speak in front of the 300 plus people that showed up to the convocation. Now Finn has so many friends including ones from Best Buddies. Finn is the man, and everyone knows and loves him.”

Besides his involvement with Best Buddies, Roberts participates in several other activities. He is a swimmer on the high school team and volunteers, especially at the Grace Care Center. He is also on the Unified Track team, which consists of an equal number of athletes with intellectual disabilities and athletes without intellectual disabilities.

Roberts has suggestions for others who want to make a difference, “Just stand up. At first, you’re not going to feel entirely comfortable and it will feel awkward. Try to be as involved as you can and live every day working toward your goal. This is going to sound cliché but lead by example. There is nothing you can do better than to care about someone and show that you do.”

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