Scott Kent, a father who is deeply grateful that his son with autism has someone who will sit with him at lunch or play basketball, raised $36,855 for the Best Buddies organization in Maine.

“Kids with special needs have a hard time connecting with friends,” said Kent, who was named Champion of the Year at the Best Buddies Gala on Oct. 22 at Thompson’s Point. “When our son, Kason, was diagnosed with autism, my wife and I had two options. Stay in Fort Kent, where there are no services at all. Or look elsewhere.”

The Kents moved to Cumberland, where Best Buddies, the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sprang up in Maine in 2019. Each chapter, whether it is at a college, high school, middle school, elementary school or in the community, pairs people with and without disabilities. The goal is pretty simple: friendship.

“Those of you who were here two years ago, a lot has changed with Best Buddies,” said Rebecca Williams, director of mission advancement. “We had two fledgling chapters in 2019. We now have 16 chapters, from Biddeford to Bangor. And I’m promising 21 chapters by the end of 2021.”

“My daughter, Avery, is a Buddy,” said Kristen Klimaytis of Cumberland. “These kids aren’t always in the same classes, so Best Buddies is a way to get together and learn more about each other.”

Avery’s Best Buddy at Greely Middle School, Addison Maxham, said, “We like skiing, watching movies, baking and basically hanging out.”

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Addison’s mother, Lori Maxham, said, “It’s less about differences and more about commonality.”

In addition to chapters that match students at two Maine elementary schools, three middle schools and six high schools, adult groups called Citizens have formed in the Portland and Bangor areas. The first Citizen pairing was dental assistant Abby Davies and Gabe Brewington of Cape Elizabeth.

“We jumped the gun,” Davies said, grinning, “because Gabe was ready to play some basketball.”

In addition to some one-on-one ball, they have browsed at Bull Moose, walked her dog at Fort Williams, braved some rides at the Cumberland Fair and played board games.

Davies, who works at Root Dental, was also one of the top 10 Champions – community fundraisers – along with other health and insurance professionals and middle school, high school and college students. Altogether, the gala raised $205,000, with the silent auction including options to bid in the name of each of the 10 Champions.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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