Patrick Laurenson placed his hands on his head and extended them quickly to each side as a smile beamed from his face.
The Mercer Island resident was clearly blown away when reliving the moment he learned that he was named Best Buddies Washington’s Mission Mover of the Year during its virtual Friendship Walk on May 15.
“It was awesome. I got the award. I was surprised. It was shocking. It was great,” Laurenson, who has Down syndrome, said in a recent Zoom interview.
Mercer Island High School (MIHS) junior and Best Buddies Mercer Island chapter president Kelly Cotter noted that Laurenson garnered the honor because he embodies inclusion, optimism and kindness while greatly impacting the community.
The Best Buddies International nonprofit’s goals are to eliminate the social, financial and physical isolation people with disabilities face. Other vital elements that Best Buddies focuses on are inclusion and one-to-one friendships between people with and without disabilities, Cotter noted.
Cotter joined Laurenson on the virtual “victory stand” by being named Best Buddies Washington student of the year at the Friendship Walk, which featured a Karaoke dance party, yoga and various games. School-wise, MIHS earned top honors and was named third best fundraiser.
In its second year of existence, Mercer Island’s Snails 4 Inclusion group — which is 40 members strong — raised about $1,500 from friends, family and community members that will contribute to the growth of Best Buddies.
“I think we’re super lucky to have this very small, but very strong Best Buddies Washington community. And it feels really good to have all of my hard work recognized through the state,” Cotter said.
Ashley Dutton, director of mission advancement for Best Buddies Washington, said that the MIHS chapter has helped spread the organization’s message of inclusion while striving to make solid friendships.
“Developing social skills is essential to long-term success for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Inclusion is not often discussed as a need for people with IDD, yet it plays a critical role, as many are at a higher risk of being marginalized,” Dutton added.
Laurenson’s buddies, MIHS juniors Maeve Sullivan and Molly Brodsky, have played integral roles in his life, according to his dad, Robert.
Sullivan, who will be next year’s vice president, said that Laurenson is one of the most spirited and happiest people in her life and she’s inspired and uplifted when she’s in his presence.
“I have loved getting to know Patrick and cannot wait to continue to grow our friendship,” Sullivan said.
Brodsky said that her and Laurenson’s friendship has grown quickly and he always brightens her day.
“His willingness and spirit not only improves the mood of everyone around him, but also helps him grow closer bonds with his peers,” Brodsky said.
Laurenson, who played a major role in his team’s fundraising, walked through his MIHS class’ graduation ceremony in 2019 and will receive his diploma next year. He’s currently taking part in the adult transition program for job training.
His dream job is to work for the US Army National Guard in some capacity, Robert said. “I think it would be public safety. Patrick’s really into the idea of keeping people safe, keeping the community safe,” Robert added.
During the Zoom chat, the discussion rolled back around to how Laurenson discovered that he won the big award. Following his Challenger Little League ball game on the morning of May 15, they were listening to the Best Buddies awards ceremony in the car when Laurenson’s name thrust out of the speakers as the Mission Mover of the Year.
Cotter smiled and chipped in by noting that she, Sullivan and Brodsky kept the honor a secret so Laurenson would be surprised. He was.
Soon after the award announcement, Laurenson and some of his Best Buddies friends and their families met up at Kelsey Creek Park and Farm in Bellevue to enjoy lunch, toss around a Frisbee and discuss their memorable Best Buddies experiences.
For more information, visit https://www.bestbuddies.org/washington/