Westport's Best Buddies walk celebrates inclusion with an artistic twist

WESTPORT — Despite COVID restrictions, the state’s Best Buddies Friendship Walk still managed to hold a fun event Saturday morning centered on inclusion and awareness of intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD.

“We do an annual friendship walk,” explained Cristina Knowles, program manager, with up to 1,200 people taking part in the past throughout Connecticut.

This year, however, Staples High School’s parking lots played host to a drive-through event that included giveaways, demonstrations and some hands-on activities.

“All of this is raising money and awareness for the work we do, and for individuals with IDD,” Knowles said.

Members of the Staples’ Players volunteered their time performing a number from the show “Newsies” and doing a hands-on tech demonstration of sound effects.

“It’s really fun,” said Lucia Scott, 16, a Staples junior. “I’ve never done anything with Best Buddies before, but I think I might keep doing stuff with them because it’s really cool.”

Other volunteers came from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, where a Best Buddies class is offered that exposes students to, and engages them with, the nonprofit’s program.

“It’s really a fun time,” said student Abigail Wilson.

The event’s engagement included outside games and art projects with the IDD population.

“It’s a great hands-on experience for the kids to get to work with the IDD population,” said Professor Debbie Lavigne, of Quinnipiac.

She explained that COVID had limited their chances for direct interaction, so this alternative version of the walk was a positive opportunity.

“Being able to be out here today is really important,” she said.

Other volunteers also welcomed the event.

“I am really happy to be here today as we celebrate inclusion,” said Jenn Porzio, a Westport resident and ambassador to the program, sharing during a brief opening ceremony. “We are so grateful for you all.”

Other activities at the event included portrait drawing, hand and footprint creation, and a musical bingo game.

“This is our first time here and they have been really great to let us come and do it,” said Lezlye Zupkus, state director for Best Buddies. “It’s a perfect place to do it.”

Saturday’s event had a festive atmosphere.

“Today we are here altogether celebrating inclusion,” noted Al Recchia, who served as emcee during the welcoming ceremony. “As you watch today, please note that you are making a difference. We are so appreciative of all you do.”