When Jeb Niewood’s son, Kevin, was a third-grader at Riverglades Elementary School in Parkland, Fl, he didn’t notice anything unusual about his best friend and faithful playmate, Bradley Schneider.
They had met that same year at school and quickly became friends after realizing they had a lot in common, including their love for sports and their dreams of someday being like their idol, Michael Jordan.
Many years later, Kevin, now 23 years old and working as a meteorologist/reporter at an NBC affiliate in West Virginia confesses, “I just saw Bradley as a nice boy and a wonderful friend, not as a kid with Down syndrome.”
Jeb Niewood, now 58 and an attorney, was so captivated by watching his son play with his childhood buddy that in 2002, he founded Soccer Buddies, a two -hour a week program that pairs non-disabled children with special needs kids.
These days, after starting out with a mere 30 volunteers and 20 players, the program is now called Parkland Buddies and has served more than 2,000 local children.
Parkland mayor Michael Udine says the program has not only grown immensely but that it has totally brought the whole town together. Buddies offers special-needs kids between the ages of 10-18 a safe place to play and teaches non-disabled kids lessons in acceptance and inclusion.
17 year old Garrett Meyerson, who has cerebral palsy, talks about how the Buddies program helped change his life by instilling much confidence and helping him develop more physical strength by inspiring him to walk longer distances. Meyerson adds he is currently mentoring a young man with cerebral palsy and beams with pride when he talks about how his pupil can’t stop smiling just as he did a few years ago when he joined the program.
So, whatever happened to the friendship between Bradley and Kevin? They are still great friends, of course!
They still support each other and while Bradley is very busy with a job as a bagger at a local grocery store, he still plays sports and aspires to become a volunteer for the Buddies program very soon.
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