The RBHS Best Buddles Club celebrated World Smile Day with a banner and a video. Holding the banners are (front row, from left) Lily Favela, Ruby Pelayo, Marissa Bloodgood, Amanda DiForti, Anysiah Taylor, Dawn Soprych, Colin Griffin, (back row) co-sponsor Mitch Zilinger, Principal Hector Freytas, David Waas, Audrey Connelly and Jack Pitts. (PROVIDED)

The Best Buddies clubs at two Riverside schools were named as the top Best Buddies chapters in the state of Illinois in their respective classifications this year.

The Riverside-Brookfield High School Best Buddies club won the high school Chapter of the Year award for the second time, while the Central School Best Buddies club, in its first year of existence, was named Chapter of the Year in the elementary school category.

“Winning the Best Buddies Illinois Chapter of the Year Award is an incredible honor,” said RBHS Best Buddies Club sponsor Dawn Soprych in an email. “The reality is that our passion and commitment to the club is evident with or without the recognition. Our mission at RB is to create a community that encourages friendships among students of all intellectual and social ability levels.”

Best Buddies is global organization that promotes friendships and connections between students with special needs and the general student population.

The RBHS Best Buddies Club also won Chapter of the Year in Illinois in 2009 and was recognized as an outstanding chapter in 2008. The RBHS chapter was founded in 2005 by former RBHS social worker Mari Mortensen. 

Approximately 130 students at RBHS were members of the Best Buddies club this year, making it the largest club at the high school. 

The club normally hosts an event every month. They had a picnic mixer to start the school year, a fieldhouse event, made a World Smile Day video, hosted a Pack the Place Special Olympics basketball game between teams from RBHS at Lyons Township High School, and took a trip to Enchanted Castle in Lombard in January.

Security guard Rich Polfus has been a special friend of the Best Buddies club since he began working at RBHS in 2017.

“A special shout out to Rich Polfus for his amazing fundraising events and continuous support,” Soprych wrote. “This money has helped us with various events and, most importantly, has allowed us to offer a Best Buddies scholarship for students who are going into special education of disability rights.”

The Central School Best Buddies Club just got started this year. Its lead sponsor is fourth-grade teacher Kelly Lyson, who was the co-president of the RBHS Best Buddies club at RBHS during the 2009-10 school year when her name was Kelly Sherman.

Lyson was thrilled when she got word on May 14 that the Central club was named the best elementary school chapter in Illinois.

“It’s crazy,” Lyson said of being named best elementary school chapter in the state in the clubs first year of existence. “It’s such an honor and it was such an honor to hear about it.”

There are only 29 elementary schools in Illinois with Best Buddies clubs, said Adam Wilt, the director of Best Buddies Illinois. Wilt is a resident of Riverside and is the son of Riverside Township Supervisor Vera Wilt.

The Best Buddies Club at Central was popular right away, with 88 students joining the club this year. 

“Our biggest issue was trying to find a big enough space to house all of the club members,” Lyson said.

Last year, the Best Buddies club at L.J. Hauser Junior High School won the best middle school Best Buddies chapter in Illinois award.