Mercer freshman establishes new service club to help local students with learning differences


Image: Zaira Khan

Aniya Watts founded The Buddy Bunch to help Mercer support special-needs students in the community. She was inspired by her sister, who lives with cerebral palsy. “How can one foster self-esteem and social skills if you’re not interacting with the general population, if you’re being left out or in … isolated environments?” Watts said. “How are you going to grow and learn?”

A new service organization, The Buddy Bunch, is coming to Mercer’s campus with a goal to serve individuals with developmental disabilities.

After being approved by the Student Government Association (SGA) unanimously last month, the club plans on working primarily with Woodfield Academy, a local school serving students with learning differences.

Started by freshman Aniya Watts, the club was founded in response to the overall lack of resources for children with special needs. One of the group’s main goals is helping to build social skills.

“How can one foster self-esteem and social skills if you’re not interacting with the general population, if you’re being left out, if you’re in different, isolated environments by yourself? How are you going to grow and learn?” Watts said.

Watts said she was motivated to launch The Buddy Bunch after living with her sister, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“I definitely played a huge role in her life with us growing up together, and just seeing her struggles, I learned how to be the most helpful through my sister,” she said. “That’s really where my passion started and it grew based on that.”

The Buddy Bunch held its first informational meeting April 18. Starting next semester, they plan on making biweekly visits to Woodfield Academy in hopes to create meaningful, long-lasting connections with students.

“The Academy is a small private school established by parents in 1997,” Head of School Becky Sessions said. “Our mission is to empower students with learning differences to their potential.”

Watts estimated that approximately one in 10 students in Macon have special needs, not including those enrolled in private schools. This experience can be isolating, according to Sessions.

“Sometimes they have to go through a lot of being misunderstood before the dust settles and people realize you got this behavior going on because of unmet needs of students,” Sessions said. “They are frustrated, and they are melting down.”

Sessions said that Woodfield provides them the services and understanding they need to adjust to life in school and beyond.

“Woodfield is not the real world,” she said. “The level of encouragement, support and understanding that’s available is just not everywhere.”

School leadership is excited to work with the Mercer students involved in The Buddy Bunch.

“We’ve all got a lot to give, and we are really cutting our nose off to spite our face in society if we don’t do something to encourage more accommodations and access for individuals who have disabilities in the workplace or elsewhere in everyday life,” Sessions said. “The Mercer connection could be a stepping stone for Mercer and Woodfield.”