Overcoming Disability & Bullying

Britney Bautisa chosen to receive gift of graduation party

Britney Bautista (right) poses for a photo with partner Savannah Rock on Feb. 6 in San Diego. Photos courtesy of Britney Bautista

Britney Bautista is a 4.0 grade-point average student at Maui High School, a four-year cross country runner and co-president of the Sabers United Club. She’s a natural public speaker and a blossoming grant writer. And she’s come further than anyone expected when she was diagnosed with a developmental disability at a young age.

Britney was born with hypomelanosis of Ito, which impacted everything from her motor skills to her social development. But these days, the 17-year-old student-athlete isn’t letting anything slow her down.

“I couldn’t be more prouder,” said her mom, Sharin Bautista. “From all the challenges she’s gone through from when she was small . . . she’s surprised us in so many ways. And we can’t stop her. Everything that’s out there, she’s going to do it and challenge herself.”

The Bautistas got another surprise on Feb. 16 when they found out that Britney had been chosen to receive an all-expenses-paid graduation party, an annual tradition that started when a Pukalani family met a Baldwin High School student named Brandon Cachola.

In May 2015, a driver under the influence of crystal meth hit Cachola while he was walking home. The incident left Cachola in a wheelchair with a traumatic brain injury, but didn’t stifle his dreams of becoming a DJ. When Cachola was a senior in 2017, Eva Valdez, husband Miguel Valdez Resendiz and son Alan Urquio of Pukalani helped Cachola’s dreams come true by giving him a mixer, letting him DJ an event and sponsoring his graduation party through All Kine Sounds, their audio-visual business.

Jasmine Mendoza (from left), Joanne Mendoza, Alison Somilleda, Britney Bautista, Sharin Bau-tista, Belden Bautista, Brandon Cachola and Eva Val-dez gather at the annual Best Buddies dance on Feb. 16 at Baldwin High School.

Last year, the family decided to pay it forward in honor of Cachola and donate a party to another senior in the Best Buddies program, Lahainaluna student Joshua Mendoza. At the Best Buddies annual dance at Baldwin on Feb. 16, Britney was announced as the latest recipient.

“We weren’t planning on having a graduation party because we’re going to go on a trip instead, but she was really wanting the party, so I guess it all was meant to be,” Sharin Bautista said.

At local high schools, the Best Buddies program pairs students with special needs peers. Britney is a buddy director at Maui High and helps plan activities like movie nights and scavenger hunts. Cheyenne Poche, Britney’s best friend since 2nd grade, is also her best buddy in the program.

Alison Somilleda, Best Buddies Maui senior program manager, said she chose Britney for the award because of her “incredible” growth. Britney’s taken the lead on many initiatives, including fundraising, setting up their social media, and organizing and promoting events.

“She has set such an impressive example for buddy directors in high school, and I am fully confident that she will go on to continue doing amazing things in her life,” Somilleda said.

Britney Bautista (third from right) is pictured with her Special Olympics basketball team from Maui High at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in November 2017. Maui High has received recognition as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School for its efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities.

Britney also competes in track and field, basketball and bocce ball with Special Olympics. Last year, she was named one of 12 Special Olympics youth ambassadors for North America and was chosen to attend the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Youth Leadership Experience in Seattle. In February, she spoke to around 600 teachers at a leadership council with Special Olympics in San Diego.

“I enjoy meeting people from other islands when we go to the state games,” Britney said. “And in Special Olympics, I learned so many leadership opportunities that I’m grateful for.”

Her dad, Belden Bautista, said that when Britney was growing up, “there was a ceiling that we thought she wasn’t going to get to because of her disability.” Britney couldn’t talk or walk until she was about 4 years old and was in therapy from about age 2 to 6. Tests revealed that she had hypomelanosis of Ito, a rare condition that can include varying degrees of learning disability, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“The kids would always make her the ‘it’ person (in tag),” Belden Bautista recalled. “The kids knew she was special, and she didn’t have the ability to chase people down. You could tell. Because we would watch from afar, and you could see kids kind of stop and stare at her.”

In February, Britney became a target of cyberbullying when another student posted a video on Instagram directed at her. The student had been suspended after getting caught stealing a box of fundraiser lollipops from Britney. Belden Bautista said he hadn’t seen the video; the school recommended it best that he didn’t. Britney said she was hurt by the video but that she was trying to focus on the big picture.

“I’m surrounded by my family and my friends and teachers who I can rely on,” she said. “I’m focused on my education, and all this cyberbullying isn’t worth my time. I want to be like a positive person, and not a negative person.”

While Britney has come a long way, she still struggles with some basic tasks, like tying her shoes, putting her hair in a ponytail and brushing her teeth. Driving is not an option. But the Bautistas said Britney has many dreams, and that they’re taking it one day at a time.

“She’s just been a rock star, just trying to spread her platform of inclusion and that everyone’s equal and no one should be treated different,” Belden Bautista said. “We’re proud of her. We don’t know where it’s going to take her, but we support her 100 percent, and the sky’s the limit with her.”

Britney said she plans to attend the University of Hawaii Maui College and major in both early childhood education and hospitality and tourism. She’s currently the secretary of Maui High’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism.

“I want to be an elementary teacher, but if that doesn’t work out, I might work at the Grand Wailea in the recreational department where I can take care of the guests’ children,” she said.

Britney’s story especially hits home for Valdez, whose young son Miggy has autism and has been a target of bullying. She said the pay-it-forward tradition has turned into exactly what her family had hoped it would be.

“We want to emphasize the Best Buddies program and emphasize that even though these kids have that title of being special needs, they’re just as special as everyone else out there, and they do deserve to be recognized for the many things they do out in the community and how important their dreams are,” she said.

All Kine Sounds will handle the lights and sound for the party, but they are looking for people in the community willing to help with photography and catering or monetary donations. For more information or to help, contact Valdez at 870-6104.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.