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MICDS student starts inclusive program

Maddie Goldberg

MICDS senior Maddie Goldberg (right) started the Best Buddies chapter at her school. Best Buddies is a program for students with and without disabilities that focuses on friendship.

Aside from being a competitive dancer, a volunteer and a traveler, helping children with disabilities has always a passion of Maddie Goldberg, MICDS senior and member of Congregation B’nai Amoona.

At the age of 12, when considering what to do for her bat mitzvah project, Goldberg wanted to do something that involved performing arts. This interest, as well as her desire to help those with special needs, blossomed at Stages Performing Arts Academy, where she volunteered in a singing, dancing and acting class for students with disabilities. 

“Meeting such an accepting group of people made me feel like I was really wanted and valued,” Goldberg said. 

Goldberg continued her work at Stages for five years, following her bat mitzvah. She didn’t want the close relationships she had made to end, she explained.

From there, Goldberg realized, “I wanted to get more involved working with people who have special needs.”

During her sophomore year of high school, she helped establish the MICDS chapter of Best Buddies. In Best Buddies, each student with disabilities is paired in a one-to-one friendship with an MICDS student without disabilities. These friendships develop throughout the school year, and fun monthly events such as bowling, pajama parties and lunches are planned to get everyone involved. Goldberg immediately became the president and co-head of this new club. 

“The outlook they all have on life and the way in which they treat each other; this never ceases to amaze me,” she said.

Ally Kalishman, a sophomore at MICDS and member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, is a member of Goldberg’s chapter.

“I honestly just love being with the buddies. They teach me so much about compassion and empathy, and it’s so amazing to watch them grow throughout the year,” said Kalishman. 

In addition, Goldberg is the head coach of another program, TAGG (Totally Awesome Girlfriend Group) for girls who have Downs syndrome. 

“[I love to be] able to learn so many things about each person individually, and all truly being able to connect with each other,” Goldberg said. In this program, she teaches dance routines and leads performances.

As if that was not already enough, Goldberg also founded and coaches Missouri’s first ever Special Olympics Dance Team. 

“I would say my biggest accomplishment has been giving these dancers the opportunity to dance in front of a cheering crowd, because I know how rewarding that experience is,” she said.

After this dance team was established, parents of the competing children shared that the only other option would have been for the children to dance at a traditional studio would be at a lower level, with younger kids, Goldberg added. Instead, this new program gave these children the chance to perform on stage in front of a crowd. 

Goldberg shares that “working with kids with special needs is my passion because everyone on my dance team and in Best Buddies has so much more to offer than many people may think.” 

Goldberg will be continuing to participate in Best Buddies next year in college, as well as volunteering with any other organizations that have similar missions.