By Melissa Arnold
Like most high schoolers, 16-year-old Chloe Bucher has a lot going on. The Ward Melville High School junior is balancing schoolwork, two jobs, a social life and extracurriculars while also pondering big questions about her future.
In the midst of all that, Bucher has never stopped thinking about others, particularly people with disabilities and special needs. Since she was an eighth grader at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School in E. Setauket, Bucher has been a part of a Buddies Program that builds friendships and support for special needs students through games, crafts, parties and other activities.
When she arrived at Ward Melville in 9th grade, Bucher was one of several students who petitioned to launch a similar program for the high school.
“People assume a lot of things when you have special needs — they might think ‘oh, they’re just dumb.’ But it’s not like that at all,” Bucher said in a recent interview. “The Buddies Program in middle school was amazing, and we wanted to keep the inclusivity going. It’s a lot of work to accommodate each person’s individual needs and skills, but it’s so worth it.”
Last week, as local students had a week-long recess, Bucher was hard at work on her latest project — Come Support and Change Lives — a fundraiser to benefit the special needs community on Long Island.
On Saturday, March 7 beginning at 7 p.m., Bucher is hosting an evening of appetizers, drinks, raffle baskets and entertainment at the charming Bates House, nestled in Setauket’s Frank Melville Memorial Park.
Proceeds from the event will support the Developmental Disabilities Institute (DDI), Long Island’s leading provider of educational, vocational, day program and residential services for more than 1500 children and adults living with autism and other developmental disabilities. The organization was founded in 1961 and has since grown into an energetic, multi-site nonprofit agency.
“I really wanted to broaden the spectrum of who I was helping,” Bucher said. “A family friend has a son with autism who benefited from DDI, and I know they do so much for the community. They’re a great team.”
Jean Smith, director of development at DDI, said that the organization is thrilled to partner with Bucher.
“It is wonderful to see that there are young people in our local community like Chloe, who are passionate about enhancing the lives of individuals with autism and go above and beyond to show their support,” said Smith. “On behalf of the individuals DDI serves, I would like to thank and commend Chloe for her kindness and generosity.”
Bucher is still unsure about what she wants to do after graduation, but is leaning toward becoming an educator.
“The kids that I work with make me want to do this for a lifetime,” she said.
The Bates House is located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket. Tickets to the event are $50 per person. To purchase, contact Chloe Bucher at 631-521-1478 or by email at ChloeBucher1@yahoo.com. To learn more about DDI, visit www.DDINY.org.