Charlie Naylor met Aram Varjabedian when Aram and his family moved to town back in third grade. He told his parents that he made a new friend – a kid who came from California or someplace, because he had a “different accent.”
‘I was super young so I didn’t understand what a disability was – he was just my buddy,” said Naylor. “He was just my friend.”
On a chance visit to Lane School, his father, Bedford Police Sgt. Craig Naylor, discovered that the new kid had Down Syndrome. He said he still chokes up when he considers his son’s acceptance.
Now they are both Bedford High School seniors, and Charlie Naylor has organized Aram’s “I-Can-Do-It” team to mark Down Syndrome Awareness Month with a “Buddy Walk” Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Sabourin Field to promote acceptance and inclusion.
“We are all meeting at the turf, and there will be a deejay,” Naylor said. “We will be walking two miles around the track.” Raffles to area restaurants and other businesses and T-shirt sales will augment electronic fundraising efforts. Naylor said members of the team are sharing the fundraising link, broadening the base to raise money for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, which is based in Burlington.
Varjabedian is number 44, a lineman on the BHS varsity football team “We’re getting the entire team to come” to the event, said Naylor, one of the senior captains. “We want the whole town of Bedford to celebrate Down Syndrome awareness.”
Naylor has been working with his brother James, Willie Fitzgerald, and Aram’s mother Pearlene Varjabedian. It’s the first event of its kind in Bedford; pre-Covid, the Buddy Walk was an annual event that circumnavigated Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield.
For the past decade, “We labeled our team, ‘I Can Do It,’ and the reason is Aram always turns around and says that. He can do it – he lifted weights last summer. He was in ‘Fiddler.’ And we believe every kid with special needs can do it,” his mother asserted.
Pearlene Varjabedian “has been a tremendous advocate for Aram to be ‘included’ in our school system and community,” said Sheila Mehta-Green, co-chair of SEPAC, the special education parent advisory council in the Bedford schools. “Her advocacy has allowed for herself and Aram to be a part of our school community and paved the path for other special ed students.”
Saturday evening’s event, she said, will be “a great coming together of the importance of inclusion, acceptance, friendship, and community.”
“I have been a tremendous advocate for Aram to be included, but my advocacy was not done just for Aram,” Pearlene Varjabedian explained. “My advocacy was done to open the doors for many students of this profile and special education students to follow a path of inclusion and acceptance, to be able to go to school alongside their neighbors’ kids, to be able to have access to the general education curriculum with modifications.”
“Bedford has taken an active role in inclusion, fully or partially,” Varjabedian continued. “Inclusion doesn’t work for everybody. But it has benefited my son and others to be able to learn alongside their peers, to look at their peers as mentors, to be able to be exposed to social nuances. It has truly been an amazing model for my son.”
“It has been the toughest fight of my life and it continues to be, but we continue to open the doors for kids following,” Varjabedian said. “We are hoping our advocacy, belief in inclusion, and acceptance is going to pay off for the kids. Our kids are not going to live in a bubble. If they don’t learn to live in our world they will never learn.”
“All the kids pull together,” his mother said. “You can’t imagine the support. They love Aram.”
The fundraiser link is: I Can Do It Team Page, https://buddywalk.securesweet.com/teampage.asp?fundid=10316#.YSwAwo5KhPY
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763