Monica Dougherty

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Making friends in high school is often an experience that is influenced by many things: the middle school, classes and after-school activities and the social circles navigated beyond school hours. Evanston Township High School Monica Dougherty has discovered through her Senior Studies project that friendship groups that expand beyond these typical spheres of influence can be especially meaningful.

For her project, Monica decided to explore the impact of friendships that are formed among the students with and without intellectual disabilities who participate in the school’s chapter of Best Buddies. Her project is a social media experience titled, “The Power of Friendship,” which highlights photographs and interviews of ETHS Best Buddies in blog format on her “Power of Friendship” Facebook page. Her goal in creating this visual project was to “share the true mission of Best Buddies: unconditional love, support and friendship.”

Best Buddies is an international organization with more than 1,700 chapters that seeks to connect young people with and without intellectual disabilities in one-to-one friendships that help strengthen socialization, employment, and leadership skills. The ETHS Chapter of Best Buddies started in the 2000-2001 school year. Staff sponsor Leslie Wenzel, ETHS Best Buddies draws in an annual average of 200 students “at all grade levels, with different interests, with varying capacities for socialization, who are united by their interest in supporting and advocating for their peers with special needs.”

This power of friendship is what inspired Monica’s Senior Studies project. She has been a member of Best Buddies since her freshman year. She said she thinks many students initially join Best Buddies because of its appeal as “a good volunteer opportunity or a positive thing to add to their resume.” She explains that after getting involved, students quickly realize that Best Buddies isn’t just “volunteer work,” but that “it is an incredible opportunity to meet someone new outside of your typical [social] circle.” She says the Best Buddies program highlights the infinite positive return on investment that can occur from developing “heartwarming and very real friendships.”