Community Voices

Best Buddies Ball a prom for students with intellectual, developmental disabilities

Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities paired up with their buddies to dance and celebrate the spirit of friendship and a successful school year.
Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities paired up with their buddies to dance and celebrate the spirit of friendship and a successful school year. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

“Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not get to experience a lot of the typical high school traditions, such as prom and homecoming,” said Heather Gray, regional director of Best Buddies Florida in email.

“In order to give our participants this experience and foster an inclusive and welcoming environment we held the Best Buddies Ball.”

And it was fun. Hundreds of students and their buddies danced the night away at the South Florida Friendship Ball, a prom-like event offered for free to 75 Best Buddies Friendship chapters in South Florida schools.

Christina Mayo CHARLES TRAINOR JR. Miami Herald File

The celebration of one-to-one friendship matches made during the school year also recognized South Florida students and teachers for giving more than 120,000 hours of service to Best Buddies.

“This year’s prom was our largest South Florida Friendship Ball to date, with over 800 students, parents, faculty advisors, advisory board members, and volunteers in attendance,” Gray said. “The participants were so appreciative and happy, they had a phenomenal experience. They danced for hours with their buddy pairs and newly made friends, and at the end of the night we crowned a ‘Buddy Pair of the Year’ similar to a Prom King and Queen.”

Best Buddies International, a groundbreaking nonprofit founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, is “a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).”

This year, Best Buddies South Florida started something new at the masquerade-themed ball held at Marlins Park. The first Buddy Pair Court was established and the inaugural “Buddy Pair of the Year” was crowned.

DJ Joey Jax returned to provide musical entertainment and the students had fun with an inflatable photo-booth, dancing, dinner and creating their masquerade masks the night of the event.

“Events like this remind us how important it is to make sure people with disabilities are included in their communities, and are able to experience many of the important milestones in life like their peers,” Gray said.

Best Buddies International has eight formal programs — Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies, Jobs, Ambassadors, and Promoters — engaging participants in 50 states and in over 50 countries. The organization makes a positive impact on the lives of more than 1.1 million people with and without disabilities around the world. For more on this good work and to get involved, visit

Rotary centennial

Founded 100 years ago, the Miami Women’s Panhellenic celebrated its big anniversary with brunch and remembrances of the mighty women in Miami history.

The group is one of 26 Panhellenic Greek letter women’s fraternities across the country, said Elena De Villiers, MWP Centennial Chair, in email.

“Organized in 1917 as a fraternal organizational for Panhellenic women living in Miami, Florida, Miami Women’s Panhellenic is one of Miami-Dade County’s longest continuously operating women’s organizations in the County,” she said. “Its rich history is documented in the archives of the County’s museum, and includes many of the County’s notable women leaders as its members throughout the decades.”

Among the founding members were Mary B. Merritt, the first dean of women at University of Miami; and Marion Manley, the first woman certified as an architect in Miami. Early members included Louise Mills, second dean of women at UM; Ruth Kerdyk, prolific book reviewer; and Laura Cushman, founder of The Cushman School.

Many of our current members are also notable women, but what these women did in those days was very notable, De Villiers said. They were making their marks on history before they even had the right to vote.

“Our Centennial celebration pays tribute to the visionary Greek women who founded this organization and were also outstanding members of the community at large,” said Janet Quartin Festinger, MWP Past President in email. “We continue this model in a community that has changed in so many ways since 1917.”

To learn more about this group, call De Villiers at 305-801-4047 or send email to

Free handbell concert

Usually reserved as a treat during the holidays, handbell concerts are difficult to come by this time of year. Seek no longer.

The Old Cutler Presbyterian Church Ringers will present a free concert 6 p.m. Sunday at 14401 Old Cutler Rd., Palmetto Bay. Everyone is invited to attend the event, directed by Sylvia Foyt, in Ziegler Hall.

The Ringers and accompanying instrumentalists will present a varied program including traditional spirituals, hymns, original compositions and a salute to the military.

Orchids in the park

“The year has flown by and once again it is getting close to our sale,” said OrchidMania South Florida volunteer Marianne Swan. Her group raises funds for Project Cradle, a program at the UM Leonard Miller School of Medicine Department of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology.

The 19th annual orchid sale will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May 27 and 28, at Dante Fascell Park, 8600 SW 57 Ave., South Miami. Admission is free.

There will be plenty of bargains so organizers suggest you bring a cardboard box to carry your treasures. There will be all types of orchids in bud and in bloom, hoyas, succulent dish gardens, tropical plants and more.

Open poetry readings

Each fourth Saturday, there is a free open poetry reading at Sunny Isles Beach Branch Library. Everyone is invited to attend and the next one is 4 p.m., May 27, at 18070 Collins Ave. Poets and poetry lovers gather in the first floor meeting room of the Sunny Isles Beach City Hall building, where the library is housed.

The reading is open to all ages and attendees can bring their own work or present their favorite poems. Many visitors attend to listen and enjoy the beauty of poetry. To learn more, visit

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at