Grandview Heights High School has been certified as the first high school chapter in Ohio for Best Buddies International.
"Best Buddies is a global volunteer movement to create opportunities for one-on-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," said Colleen Tullis, one of a group of parents working with Grandview students to get the local group up and running.
The effort to start a chapter at the high school began in March.
"We had an initial meeting and once the students who attended heard about the program and what it's all about, the interest just snowballed from there," said Jill Younkin, another parent involved in the local effort.
The Grandview chapter was notified May 1 by the national Best Buddies headquarters that its application was accepted, Younkin said.
"It's really exciting, because it means we're official," she said.
"We focused on recruiting students in the junior class to join so they could get it started and lay the groundwork for the younger classes to keep the program growing," Tullis said. "As more students find out about the program, we hope more will join."
Grandview Heights High School "has always done a great job" including disabled students in regular classrooms, she said.
Best Buddies will help extend and enhance that effort, Tullis said.
Next school year, the program will match students for one-on-one friendships that will include weekly activities at the school and special events throughout the year, she said.
"It's all about increasing social interaction and breaking down barriers that can separate those with disabilities from those without, Younkin said.
"What's great about the program is that it can have such a positive impact on students with and students without disabilities," Tullis said.
Student leaders who helped to form the group include Ali Lachey, president; Megan McCauley, vice president; Grace Palmer, secretary; and Eli Reed, treasurer.
Lachey said she is excited to be part of the program.
"It's such a really cool idea," she said.
"It's a great way to help build friendships" between people who might not otherwise interact with each other, Lachey said.
"This first year, we're really focused on getting the program established," she said. "We already have a couple of freshmen involved, and hopefully they will be able to take it over after we graduate next year and keep it going strong."
Students will attend a Best Buddies leadership conference in July at Indiana University to learn more about the organization and how to operate a chapter, Younkin said.
Grandview resident Janet Callison is helping to coordinate an effort to establish and staff a Best Buddies state office in Ohio, Tullis said.
"We're the first high school group in Ohio, but I think this is a movement that can catch fire and spread throughout central Ohio and the state," she said. "Hopefully other schools, businesses and organizations will create their own Best Buddies chapter."
Best Buddies of GHHS will hold a fundraiser Saturday, May 10, at DK Diner, 1715 W. Third Ave.
"The diner will be donating 10 percent of their sales from 2 p.m. until they close that night to Best Buddies," Tullis said.
Students also will hold a silent auction from 2 to 7 p.m. May 10 at the diner, with all the proceeds benefiting Best Buddies, she said.
The auction will include a chocolate cake and gift card from La Tavola restaurant, movie tickets from the Grandview Theatre and items from other local businesses, including the Ohio Tap Room, Pure Barre Columbus, Doggie Day Spa, Wendy's Gymnastics, Jackhammer Strength Training, Stauf's, Cousins Utility Sauce, Grandad's Pizza and State Tire and Service.