East and Stetson Students Participate in TasteBuds Philadelphia
East High School freshman Grayson Norbury has a passion for cooking, and that passion has led her to TasteBuds, a unique signature event run by Best Buddies International. Best Buddies is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that pairs volunteers with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities to form lasting friendships and provide employment and leadership development opportunities.
This year marked the first year for TasteBuds Philadelphia, which was held on November 7th at Sugar House Casino. The event matched talented chefs from the Greater Philadephia region with a "buddy" from various Best Buddies chapters in the area who served as "sous chefs" for the evening. Attendees had the opportunity to sample the chefs' creations. Grayson was paired with Chef Ryan Bloome from Terrain in Glen Mills.
Their dish? “Flatbread pizza with a soft, whipped cheese, wilted kale, and squash." said Bloome.
Grayson and Chef Bloom met this past Monday at Terrain to prep for the event. It was the second meeting between the pair, and Grayson’s eyes lit up with excitement as Bloom led her to the kitchen. Within moments of coming up with a game plan, Grayson began to move around the kitchen and prepare the ingredients with the concentration, confidence, and ease of a seasoned chef well beyond her 15 years.
Grayson, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 18 months old, has been baking since kindergarten. "It started with simple, store bought cookies that you just slice and bake," said Grayson's mom, Carrie Norbury. "She loves to bake. It has become very routine for her. Grayson is a routine girl, so we bake every day after school."
Grayson's favorite recipe is chocolate chip cookies, but she also loves to make cakes and cupcakes. Her red velvet cupcakes were a fan favorite at Stetson Middle School where her baked goods were offered on the school's coffee cart.
"Nothing made your day more than Grayson's red velvet cupcakes," said Stetson Middle School Special Education teacher Patti Smith.
Smith spent three years as Grayson's teacher, and when she learned about TasteBuds, she knew she had to get Grayson involved.
"I can't think of anyone more appropriate for TasteBuds than Grayson," said Smith. "She is such an individual. She has so many strengths. She loves cooking; she loves her family; she loves adventure. She is quite an amazing young lady with no fear."
In addition to her love of cooking, Carrie Norbury said her daughter has an adventurous spirit.
"She is very physical. She loves to swim and climb. She repelled down a waterfall in Costa Rica. She is artistic and very creative. She has an incredible patience for the things that she is interested in. She is still working on her communication pieces and can't always tell us what she is thinking, but we really get a glimpse of what is happening inside her by watching her create in various ways. It’s really neat to see through that window.”
Chef Bloome enjoyed working with Grayson. His father has taught special education for the last 20 years, and Bloome said he was raised to be an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When he first met Grayson, he was struck by her love for cooking.
"This (TasteBuds) is the perfect event for her to do. She’s comfortable in the kitchen, which is great."
Mrs. Norbury acknowledges that Grayson has her challenges and is always appreciative when people are patient with her.
"She’s not the easiest person to get to know. She has a hard time socially and with communication. She’s a sweetheart, and she's a really neat kid, but it does take some patience to get to know her.”
“I hope that she is always a happy and well-adjusted person," Mrs. Norbury added. "I feel that in our situation, in our family, a diagnosis of autism has been less traumatic because she’s a happy kid. She has her challenges and her struggles, but she is happy, and she does well. It is my hope that she can be independent and always surrounded by people who love and care for her and that she just continues to enjoy life.”
Stetson Middle School student Emma Dredge was also at Tuesday night’s event. Emma was nominated for Best Buddies Champion of the Year for 2017. The 12-year-old is an officer of the Stetson Middle School Best Buddies Chapter and the youngest person to be nominated for Champion of the Year. With a strong dedication to raising money for Best Buddies, Emma was recognized as one of the top fundraisers for the organization.
Emma first learned about Best Buddies through Annie Seagraves, her 5th-grade art teacher at Penn Wood Elementary School. She loves being involved with Best Buddies.
“It makes me happy to see them laugh and have fun,” said Dredge. “Sometimes it is difficult for people with disabilities to make friends, but when you look at them, you know what’s in their heart. They care for everyone. They might be shy at first, but just talk to them and interact with them.”
Emma’s mother, Jennifer Dredge, was glowing with pride over her daughter's accomplishments.
“I’m so proud of her. She has such a passion for wanting to help others, despite having health problems of her own,” said Dredge.
Dredge said Emma suffers from extreme allergies and autoimmune issues, and as a result, they make regular trips to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for treatment.
“She constantly thinks of others and puts their needs before her own.”
Emma’s generous spirit is infectious. Her older sister Jenna joined the Best Buddies chapter at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where she is currently enrolled. In addition, plans are in the works to start a chapter at Rustin High School where Jennifer Dredge’s other daughter, Kayla is a freshman. There are five Best Buddies chapters in the West Chester Area School District – East High School, Henderson High School, Fugett Middle School, Peirce Middle School, and Stetson Middle School.
“I have always taught my daughters the importance of community service,” said Dredge.
The money raised through TasteBuds will help sustain the 55 eastern Pennsylvania Best Buddies chapters in addition to supporting the development of the organization’s new Citizens Program that matches adults with disabilities in one to one friendships with community volunteers.
“The Citizens Program is so important because these kids need support once they graduate,” said Jennifer Dredge.
To learn more about Best Buddies, log on to www.bestbuddies.org.