When Summer Arthurs spends time with her cousin, Kennedie Arthurs, she can’t help but to respect the 14-year-old.
Kennedie has Down syndrome. She is a buddy in this year’s Hand-In-Hand program sponsored by the Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens.
As a buddy she is paired with a high school student — in this case her cousin — and the y hang out and get to know each other up until the Blue-Gold football game June 17 at the University of Delaware. The statewide Blue-Gold program, in its 62nd year, is open to public, private, vo-tech and charter schools.
Summer, a Milford High School senior, has grown to admire Kennedie’s tenacity.
“She doesn’t really see her life as an obstacle,” Summer said. “She’s very outgoing and social and has tons of friends.”
Summer is one of three ambassadors from Milford in this year’s Hand-In-Hand program.
Ambassadors are encouraged to do things with their buddy on their own time. To help break the ice, DFRC hosts various parties, bowling nights and picnics.
Student ambassadors range from athletes to cheerleaders.
Calvin Hamblin is a 5-year-old who has Down syndrome and autism. His mother, Gail, said he was diagnosed last year with autism after the neurologist thought he was suffering from seizures.
Because of his disability, he struggles to express himself. She said the only way to understand what he’s trying to say is by paying attention to how he’s acting.
He was excited during a March 19 Hand-In-Hand party at the Modern Maturity Center, which was the first scheduled meeting of ambassadors and their buddies.
Hamblin had already met John Castro, who had come to his home a week earlier.
Castro, 19, is a senior at Dover High School. He is playing in the Blue-Gold football game and is the school’s only ambassador.
“I just want to give back to the people who are a little bit unfortunate,” Castro said. “He’s just another person.”
Castro’s already made plans to take Hamblin to a trampoline park.
Gail Hamblin sees this as an opportunity for her son to develop better communication skills and have some fun doing it.
“He looks up to [teenagers],” she said. “It’s not like mom or dad is taking him somewhere. This cool kid is going to spend time with me and spin me around.”
Indian River High School’s Zion Howard and Chance Kamin won’t be spinning their buddy around — he’s grown. The two seniors have known Josh Timmons, 18, since elementary school.
Such a long-term relationship made him an easy choice.
Timmons is in his last year of buddy eligibility — the cutoff is 18. He said the past 11 years have been fun.
“I enjoy the opportunity to come out and help,” Timmons said. “I know the drill of everything around here and I think everything is great. [The ambassadors] and I have been staying in contact. I’ve got him on my phone and we’ve talked many times.”
Anthony DelPercio, a Middletown High School football player and ambassador, thinks being an ambassador is a good way to destroy certain misconceptions surrounding students with special needs.
“So many times these kids are singled out as kids with disabilities, but once you get to know them it’s really not like that at all,” DelPercio said. “They might be different to us but we’re different to them and that’s what makes this world unique.”