A great charity

NINA HUFFMAN

Staff Writer

Year round, the local organization Peer Buddies, helps kids with disabilities such as Down Syndrome or autism build and develop their social skills while also forming lifelong friendships.

The buddies, who are socially handicapped, are paired with a peer and facilitator, and together they play games, solve puzzles, and do other integrative activities. During these activities, the facilitator and peer work together to help their buddy build social skills that will help them later in life. The group as a whole also helps all buddies and peers form skills to help them be prepared for job interviews, approach bullying situations appropriately, and how to read others’ emotions.

“I love Peer Buddies as much as I love cake and pizza,” said senior Keaton Slay. “My favorite part is Zodos Bowling and Beyond. I am also looking forward to the summer camp.”

This one-on-one program is especially successful because each buddy has a unique peer there to help them work through all their individual problems and to build their social skills. Director Elika Shahrestani is a certified behavior analyst with over 12 years of experience working with kids with special needs. Elika personally trains all peers to ensure each buddy is getting the proper care and attention they need. She is also always there to supervise and assist the peers through each group and individual session.

“At peer buddies, you get to learn a lot of skills that many people haven’t developed,” said junior Jill Garnett. “Whether you are helping you buddy physically or emotionally, you are still learning a lot of people skills that are really beneficial and that I think everyone should have.”

Peer Buddies is offering six, week-long summer camps to all buddies and peers. By participating in camp, each peer can earn upwards of 100 community service hours, learn how to work alongside kids with special needs, and meet new friends. More information about summer sessions is available at the San Marcos career center.

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