PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield High sophomore Mark Palardy, 16, is gregarious and outwardly friendly -- everything you would want in a friend -- but on Saturday he was enjoying chicken parmesan and pasta in appreciation of a friendship that was struck down an unconventional path.
Palardy, who has a learning disability and deals with medical challenges, was one of more than two dozen from the Best Buddies club -- or about four tables full -- who came together for a special "Friendsgiving" Italian meal in Lenox at Trottoria Il Vesuvio in a special acknowledgment of thanks to friendship shortly before Thanksgiving.
The Best Buddies club pairs students with students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, Asperger's syndrome, processing or other medical disorders.
Palardy was sitting side-by-side with a new friend, senior Desrosiers, whom he met through the club.
Desrosiers maintains a busy schedule as a school athlete, and the grade difference probably would have left the two roaming Pittsfield High in different circles. However, through the Best Buddies program the two have enjoyed each other's company since the beginning of the academic year after being "matched" with one another.
Desrosiers, who plays the alto saxophone, would learn that Palardy is an accomplished pianist with eight years of experience.
The saxophonist credits his new friend for getting him to participate in the after school jazz band.
"Now I have an extra friend to hang out with when I am bored at home," said Desrosiers, who said Palardy is a Facebook friend.
The club has provided more than just friendship for her son, Shirley Palardy said.
"He's always been outspoken, but (the club has) given him more independence and responsibility while he continues to grow and become more mature and he needs to feel those pieces," his mother said.
Club adviser Todd Eddy, who teaches culinary arts, said that the current generation of young adults gets a lot of flack from older adults, but he said he sees tremendous maturity in his students.
"It's about learning things about yourself that maybe you can't put into words; that's not measurable or tangible," Eddy said. "You can't describe it but you know it's there."
The club currently has about 40 students, President Amanda Ruberto said.
"I am thankful that I see this event no differently from any other event that happens at school," said senior Rebecca Schnopp, who said she has developed greater patience through the club.
This is the first year Best Buddies has had a "Friendsgiving" dinner.
Last year senior Victoria Torres was teamed with a non-verbal student.
There were immediate challenges that disappeared over time.
The two started taking a cooking classes and formed a bond over the shared interest, while rolling dough for pizza.
They communicated using an app on the iPad. They bonded over doing puzzles and recently decorated shirts that were then tie-dyed.
The language barrier suddenly didn't matter anymore.