Inspired to help and support Best Buddies
Meet Keisha Lugito. She is the president of Best Buddies, an organization dedicated to helping the 400,000 Americans living with Down Syndrome. Keisha’s older sister, Catherine is one of those 400,000 people the organization aims to help. 10 years ago, Keisha struggled to understand what it meant for her sister to have Down Syndrome.
Down Syndrome means that Catherine has one extra chromosome, so she struggles with many academic skills that can be taken for granted, like addition and subtraction.
“I’ll admit it was kind of hard to get along with her, and I got into a lot of fights with her. That was honestly the one thing I regret doing, but at the time I didn’t completely understand her position. But she was my best friend growing up, and we did everything together, even though it wasn’t the same kind of relationship others had,” Keisha said.
“She couldn’t really explain to me. But over the years, for example, in junior high I kind of got to realize how special she was,totally different than everyone else. I kind of grew to understand her so I guess it kind of transitioned from, it’s kind of a strong word, but hate, to a little bit more compassionate, gentle and loving,” Keisha said.
The defining moment for their relationship was when Keisha grew so curious, that she finally asked her mom, ’Why is my sister so different?’ All her mother said was, ’She just is the way she is.’
When she began first grade, Keisha finally understood Catherine’s disability and how she should help her in times of need. As soon as that confusion has cleared up, a new door opened for the two sister’s relationship, and they both embraced the fact that their relationship would be different but a good one all the same.
“[Having Down Syndrome] makes her look different, and people treat her differently. I think the way I learn from her is totally different than other sisters. She kind of gave me a lesson on how thankful I should be and to appreciate,” Keisha said.
As the two were growing up, their relationship was often one in which Keisha acted as the older sister, teaching Catherine how to do her homework, swim and participate in activities. Keisha was envious of her friends’ sisters who were able to give advice about school and boys. Still, Catherine supports her older sister, by texting Keisha early good luck messages for all her golf competitions.
“She always helps me with everything that I do. She helps me in different ways that other sisters couldn’t help me with. We have a best friend bond, so we’re pretty tight now,” Keisha said.
Keisha’s journey with Best Buddies began when she saw members treating Catherine exactly how they would a friend by hanging out with her outside of school. Keisha saw what a big difference Best Buddies had made in her sister’s life by the way that they made her smile and talked with her so she wasn’t isolated.
At school, the members and Catherine ate lunch together and went to school dances, and in their free time, had picnics and went on other field trips. Even after high school, Catherine is still good friends with those members, thanks to those many bonding opportunities Best Buddies provided her with.
“It’s kind of like giving back to Best Buddies after how they’ve treated my sister in her four years of high school. At a young age, I saw how blessed I was to have her in my life and seeing how the high schoolers treated her, I guess I could say I really wanted to make an impact and contribute to what they have done in it. Making her someone not isolated from the crowd gave me motivation to join,” Keisha said.
While it was also hard for their family to accept Catherine, they had a change of heart when they saw how the interactions between the sisters was not any different than the relationship between “normal” sisters.
“I feel if more people get to see the interactions with people just like her, then it would show people they could treat them like any other human beings — exactly the same as us. God made us all different, and just because one has Down Syndrome or type of disability, that one thing shouldn’t change the fact that they are human beings,” Keisha said.
Now, Keisha’s goals are to inform people of the benefits of having a one-on-one relationship with people with disabilities and to prevent them from being wrongly judged.
“I really want people with disabilities to be positively exposed to other students on campus. It’s really heartbreaking because people judge the people with disabilities without knowing they have disabilities. People can learn life lessons they can’t retrieve in different aspects of life. For example they learn to develop as a person and grow to potentially make a difference in people’s lives,” Keisha said.
By Julie Lee, Staff writer
Photo by Sajid Iqbal