Buddies Plan Ride to Raise Understanding of Disabilities
Friends met at Best Buddies fundraiser last year and work together to promote the program.
An unlikely trio—a federal lawman, a baker’s assistant and an aspiring Australian rock star—will participate next month in a Best Buddies fundraiser on the National Mall that seeks to raise understanding of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The three men are good friends, but couldn’t be more different: Kevin Whalen, of Centreville, works as a senior special agent for the Treasury Department; Eric Latcheran, of Chantilly, staffs a local bakery when he’s not a Best Buddies Ambassador and Rick Caballo, a singer-songwriter from Australia, occasionally headlines Centreville nightspots.
They were brought together last year as part of a Best Buddies fundraiser and this year have organized a team to raise money for the group. Best Buddies is a nonprofit program which pairs a student who has a developmental disability with another student to form a one-to-one friendship.
Children with intellectual disabilities can face rejection and isolation in school and the program seeks to knock down these barriers through the one-on-one friendships.
“It helps them adjust to life and hang around with a wide set of friends,” said Whalan. “And, it helps them from being alone.”
There are Best Buddies chapters at the local high schools – including Centreville, Chantilly, Westfield, Oakton – as well as at some middle schools, said Eric’s mom, Gina Latcheran, who helped launch the Centreville High School branch.
At CVHS, Best Buddies pairs are required to contact each other at least three times a week and spend time together at least twice a month, said Vicki Hudson, a CVHS teacher and school Best Buddies coordinator. At Centreville High, the program is open to all students with disabilities, not just those with intellectual disabilities, Hudson said.
“Our program's goal is to promote relationships between students with and without disabilities,” Hudson said. “Our students, both those with and without disabilities, do feel that this program is a beneficial one. Our special needs parents love our program and are quite supportive.”
Gina Latcheran agrees and said she is convinced that the program has been a big help for Eric, who graduated from Chantilly High.
“The opportunities it has afforded my son, who is part of the Best Buddies Citizens Program and is a Best Buddies Ambassador, have been countless and continue to multiply,” Gina said. “We can never give back enough to Best Buddies. So many lives have been touched and changed forever.”
Having a buddy doesn’t just have an influence on the student with the disability, Caballo said. The songwriter said he has been so grateful to have Eric as a good friend. Eric sometimes will appear onstage with Caballo, playing the washboard.
“He’s always happy and upbeat, no matter what ever happens,” said Caballo.
Their “Little Rascals" team will host local fundraisers for the Oct. 22 Audi-Best Buddies Challenge in Washington, D.C. At the event, the team will participate in a 62-mile bike ride and has pledged to raise a minimum of $1,500.
- Oct. 5 Best Buddies Bartenders Night at Glory Days Grill in Centreville, from 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
- Document shred event in the Glory Days parking lot on Oct. 8.
- Bill Casey, owner of Casey's Automotive in Chantilly, will donate up to $25 for every customer that comes in for an oil change in September with a Best Buddies promotional flyer.