BY NATHALIE BOLDUC —
Best Buddies recently returned from their trip to Hawaii. Best Buddies is a club that helps integrate students with disabilities, the “buddies,” with the rest of the school population, the “peers.” The trip took place from March 29 to April 5 and involved 13 students as well as Christina Gagne, club advisor, and Andy Carey, social studies teacher.
While some doubted that the group would be able to raise the thousands of dollars to be able to go, the club members never gave up. “Gagne never lost faith … and she kept pushing forward,” Carey said.
After their celebration dinner that brought in over $9,000, the decision to go was secured. “The spirits were lifted,” Carey said, “[Gagne’s] leadership and faith took everyone through.”
To prepare for the trip, students had a unit about Hawaii and did plane simulations. A few days before the departure, students visited the airport to learn about etiquette there, because many had never flown before. A guest speaker also came in to describe the island itself.
“My favorite part was … learning about the culture and the people of Hawaii,” said Alice Svetic, sophomore.
On the way to Hawaii, the students flew from Milwaukee, to Denver, to Los Angeles and then finally arrived in Hilo, Hawaii. “We were on the road the whole time,” Carey said.
The travel itself presented a learning opportunity for the students. “The airplane was a very good learning experience for all of us, the peers and the buddies especially,” Svetic said.
“It gets experience for different kids who have never been on an airplane before,” said Kathryn Mauer, sophomore.
In Hawaii, two Wilderness Inquiry guides met and accompanied the students. Wilderness Inquiry is an organization that plans and directs outdoor-oriented adventures. The guides planned and led most activities, and provided all of the food and necessities. “They had everything for us,” Carey said.
The first night in Hawaii the group stayed in a hotel, and for the second and third nights they stayed in cabins in Volcano National Park.
“We saw volcanoes. It was pretty awesome,” Mauer said.
“We had an opportunity to take a short night-time walk … we could see the glow of the volcano,” Carey said.
The subsequent nights were spent at the Lako House, which looked out onto the west for a view of the setting sun and included a pool and hot tub. “Lako House was fabulous … and accommodated everyone perfectly,” Carey said.
“My favorite part was relaxing at the beach … and watching the sunset,” said Noah Wolfe, freshman.
Snorkeling was also a favorite amongst the students. “People went out of their comfort zones … and really enjoyed snorkeling,” Carey said. Students swam at a black-sand beach that was composed of volcano ash.
“There was a good level of appreciation for the beautiful place we were at,” Carey said, “It looked like you were on another planet.”
Despite the challenges presented by the trip, students fared well. “[The buddies] did a lot better than we expected which was really awesome to see how they improved,” Svetic said, “I learned a lot more about all the buddies … how they interact with each other … and how they deal outside of school.”
Behavior and coping with being away from home really improved, according to Carey and Svetic. Overall, the buddies and peers alike had a lot of fun and learned a lot about Hawaii and themselves.
Although this was the first of this type of trip for any Best Buddies club chapter, Shorewood’s club is already preparing for the next trip, hopefully in the 2015-2016 school year. They plan on staying continental to reduce costs and to allow more students to participate.
“We want to go somewhere not far … where [everyone] could go,” Mauer said.
“[The trip] was the chance of a lifetime,” Carey said. The club plans on making this type of trip biannual, due to the success of the first trip to Hawaii.