Last names have been omitted to protect the privacy of minors.
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS | Companion, partner, friend… The new Buddy Family program at Annunciation Catholic Academy is teaching students to love thy neighbor. Families who’ve been enrolled for a while are paired up with newcomers as they navigate the school, parish and make new friends.
After living abroad for three years, Lauren and Breck enrolled two children at Annunciation in Altamonte Springs and one at Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando. “Moving is difficult for everyone, but especially for kids,” Lauren noted. “The emotions range from excited, to apprehensive, to nervous as the first day of school actually approaches.” The couple and their three children moved several times throughout the years. Lauren said, “I think ultimately they were excited to know that this was their final move and would be able to form lasting friendships.” To help make that happen, the family was paired with Kelly and Aaron and their three children, who also attend both schools. All were close in age.
Weeks before school started, as Lauren was moving into her new home, she received a call from Kelly. “After a move, of course you feel exhausted and overwhelmed, but you also feel disconnected. Receiving that phone call from Kelly, after unloading boxes and rearranging furniture, meant everything to me that day.” She said the call made her feel she “instantly had a ‘friend’, a connection to our new community.” She added, “Kelly played an instrumental role helping answer my questions about both Annunciation and Bishop Moore. Whether I had a question about uniforms, a class, or a club, I knew I could call Kelly,” Lauren recalled. “The Buddy Family helped our children feel a connection before the first day of school. I believe they felt like they already ‘knew’ someone.”
Soon after, they met at the annual Buddy Family Dinner and had a chance to meet the larger school community. “To feel so welcomed before classes even began brought amazing peace to our family. We felt confident God had placed us exactly where we were meant to be.” Lauren said she could not imagine life without Kelly and Aaron’s family as they have developed a lasting friendship. “It is unmistakable God had a hand in pairing our families together.” One of Lauren’s daughters, Sadie, is especially grateful. “Through the Buddy program I met someone who would become a lifelong friend, someone who walked me through middle school and will continue to be one of my closest friends throughout high school.” Last year Lauren’s family paid the gift forward by becoming a Buddy Family to another family beginning their journey.
Having a Buddy Family was such “a wonderful experience” for Emily and her family they’ve been a Buddy Family for 12 years. Emily currently has two older children in college, one in 11th grade, and a 4-year old just entering preschool. She has had children at Annunciation since 2008. “I love answering questions about the school, helping new parents find their way around, meet up at morning prayer so they can see a familiar face, and have had lots of calls and texts in between!” she said. The veteran “Buddy Family Extraordinaire” as dubbed by staff, even helped come up with some discussion points to cover with new families. Topics about the culture of the school, participation, and what to expect from the classes and teachers help new families become acclimated and easily integrated in the community. Emily loves meeting new families and says being a Buddy Family teaches her children about kindness to others. “Hospitality is a skill that needs to be taught. It’s a great opportunity to share that ministry,” she said. She also loves the long-term friendships formed by the simply gesture of welcoming someone.
Although last year the program took a hiatus due to COVID-19, Emily looks forward to resuming in the upcoming school year. “We love our buddy families!” she said.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, July 15, 2021