Good food, good music and good friends came together Saturday night for the annual Best Buddies Ball.
The occasion was a gathering of several hundred students and chaperones from all over Fairfield County at Staples High School, who enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones.
"We promote social inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," Carly Dickinson, program supervisor for Best Buddies Connecticut, said of the group and its annual prom-like event.
The international nonprofit organization, founded in 1989, boasts 44 chapters in Connecticut, including the one at Staples.
"These clubs make one-to-one friendships between people with and without disabilities because it's so important for people to have a friend, especially in high school," Dickinson said.
"Connecticut was one of the first states" to organize a Best Buddies program, she said, starting a chapter in 1990. "From there it expanded."
"It's just great," said Alexander Bauman, 17, a sophomore involved with the Staples chapter.
"It really is a friendship club," said Jocelyn Krim, 17, a Staples junior who will serve as the club's treasurer next year.
"It's for everyone," said Claire Lewin, 16, a sophomore who will be vice president next year. Because of her experiences with the club, she said that she realized that many young people with special needs are "happy and grateful ... They're people who don't have a lot, but they make the best of it."
"And (the club) really gets you to treat them like people, and it puts that in perspective," said Victoria Pappas, 15, a sophomore and the club's president-elect.
"It's also great that we get to interact with other towns," she said.
"Our Best Buddies Ball brings other chapters from around Fairfield County together," said Patty McQuone, the Staples chapter advisor.
"Staples has been doing this for 20 years at least," she said, and the ball provides an opportunity for members from other clubs to get together.
"It's like a Best Buddies prom," said Deborah Fallon, special education advisor. "It's their end-of-the-year celebration of what they do all year."
"Everybody's the same around here," she said. "They just don't feel different than anyone else."
"It's actually really interesting opportunities for kids who have disabilities, like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy."
"I think it's great," said Kathleen Fong, a mother who chaperoned the event. "I think it's wonderful organization and it has a lot of people who are really dedicated."