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Only a junior, already changing lives

School

Only a junior, already changing lives

Katie Massey

She could see it.

    Something was missing. But what was it?

    It didn’t take much time for Anna Riley to recognize the gap in our school’s education system.

Harrison had no program that allowed special needs students to socialize with general education students in school, and as the older sister of a special needs student, Riley felt compelled to change that immediately.

That compulsion is what founded HHS Buddies.

“I have a brother with special needs,” said Riley. “I was worried because he was going to go into high school and not have many friends. I said, ‘Let’s make something so when he does come in he’ll feel accepted.’”

HHS Buddies is a club where special needs students are given a chance to socialize with general ed. students both inside and outside of school.

Buddies gives these students a much needed chance to interact with others and form lasting friendships.

The club started simply as an aid for her brother once he reached high school, but quickly grew into something more.

“We kind of started it up, we paired people, but it wasn’t really structured at all,” said Riley. “Sophomore year I said, ‘Okay, we’re going to get better.’ We had winter parties, fall parties, that type of thing. This year, we have one-on-one buddies.”

The club continues to grow with the help of its founder, who is constantly thinking of new ways to improve Buddies and let it flourish.

“[She is] wildly optimistic,” said Liz Gilman, Harrison’s Special Education teacher and mentor to Riley. “She’s very positive, and very smart. She’s always thinking ahead.”

Riley spends quite a bit of her time furthering the progress of HHS Buddies, but she hasn’t forgotten to pursue a life outside of it.

When she isn’t busy planning events and keeping Buddies running, Riley plays tennis and actively participates at her church, often times speaking in front of the congregation.

Riley attributes some of her speaking skills to the confidence HHS Buddies has brought her, and is even considering a career in public speaking.

“Anna is very hardworking and loyal,” said Holli Vedder, a longtime family friend of the Riley’s. “She goes above and beyond in kindness and acts of kindness. She worries more about others than herself.”

Riley excels and impresses across the board, and she proves to all that as just a high schooler, you can be much more than “just a high schooler.”