They're Bulldog Buddies: Joseph Stephen Dauwe, Adam Von Holten take friendship center stage

MAHOMET — Joseph Stephen Dauwe needed assistance from Bulldog Buddy Adam Von Holten entering Mahomet-Seymour's stage left during a Variety Show performance, but once seated behind the drum set, he was unstoppable.

Before Dauwe could waylay on the drums, Von Holten wanted to share his friend's story.

"He had encephalocele," Von Holten said. "His crown and skull didn't form in his brain; it formed outside of his head, and he had pockets of blindness."

Dauwe's mother, Jackie Dauwe, said her 15-year-old was given a terrible prognosis from the doctors five months into her pregnancy.

"All throughout the pregnancy, they didn't give us any hope," she said. "They said that if he was born, he would be so grossly deformed that the very sight of him would cause someone to go into shock."

But Jackie and husband David Dauwe refused to believe such a fate.

"They (the doctors) would have had us preparing a funeral, but we decided to prepare a baby shower," she said.

The Dauwes put their trust in God. She recalled her husband having a dream.

"The Lord woke my husband up and said we were to name him Joseph Stephen," Jackie Dauwe said.

Jackie Dauwe knew the meaning of Joseph, "God shall add," but she was speechless when she learned Stephen meant "a crown of victory."

"Joseph was no longer a name, it was more of a promise that he will be here," Jackie Dauwe added.

The big day finally came. Jackie Dauwe had an emergency C-section and, lo and behold, a miracle.

"There was some fluid outside of his skull, but they (the doctors) closed it up somehow and his brain seemed to be intact," she said.

"He had the face of an angel," Jackie Dauwe added. "My baby has beautiful eyes and a great big smile."

The only complications Jackie Dauwe's now freshman faces are developmental delays and pockets of blindness (cortical vision impairments).

"He is such a joy," she said. "He is a walking miracle, and for a little kid that they said wouldn't live even if he did get to birth, he's definitely outlived all of their expectations, and he just blows our mind."

During Dauwe's Jan. 17 Variety Show performance, along with Von Holten, he shared his joy for drumming.

Dauwe beat the snare drum first to get his rhythm going and then it was the clashing of the cymbals for added emphasis.

"Can you do it?" Dauwe said prompting the crowd to repeat his rhythms.

His peers happily clapped along shouting, "Go Joseph!"

His favorite part of the show?

"When Daniel (his brother) was here," Dauwe said.

Joseph Stephen Dauwe is the third of the Dauwes' four children (siblings Daniel, Rachel and Jacob).

Better yet, Dauwe was the first performance of the Variety Show's judge-voted winner.

"He was really excited," Jackie Dauwe said. "He got a trophy."

Dauwe said he's been playing the drums "forever."

"When he was 6 months old, we found out he had a passion for music," Jackie Dauwe said. "He started to beat on the trash can and we just let him play because he sounded good. He was having fun."

Jackie Dauwe said at 2 years old, her son would pick out tunes on the keyboard.

"He couldn't talk, he couldn't walk," she said, "and yet he was picking songs out on the keyboard."

When the Dauwes moved from Morganfield, Ky., to Mahomet for David Dauwe's job, they were in search of a church. They visited Grace Church, where then seventh-grader Joseph Stephen Dauwe quickly made a friend in his small group leader Von Holten.

"All of a sudden I get a tap on my shoulder and it's Joseph and he goes, 'What's your name?' 'My name's Adam, what's your name?' He goes, 'My name is Joseph!'" Von Holten said. "Through junior high youth group, I got to meet him and since then I've got to know his family and helping out in the Young Adult Program."

Each school day, Von Holten, a senior, greets Dauwe, a freshman, at the Bulldog Buddies program during the 20-minute advisory period, where special education students in the Young Adult Program are paired with general education peers for fun bonding and life skills learning.

But the Bulldog Buddies do more than just in-classroom time with their peers. This year, buddies help students during lunch to get their trays, read and select menu items and make it back to the tables safely. Bulldog Buddies even have the opportunity to be leaders in the classroom by teaching life skills lessons once a week, such as practicing answering the phone, locating items in the grocery, following map directions and much more.

They also help their peers navigate P.E. Justine Hellmer and P.E. teacher Lisa Ayers wrote programs for the Young Adult Program students so that "their buddy knows their needs and what they are able to do," Hellmer said.

"(It's) awesome because they're able to play in the badminton game with their general education peers," Hellmer explained. "Previously, they would be paired with an adult aide, and that would set them apart from their gen ed peers and they would feel out of place. But now they get to stay with a friend who helps them and they feel a lot more comfortable and confident."

Hellmer, a 2013 M-S grad, designed the program for the high school, recalling the efforts of Marissa Hill, then special education teacher at the junior high, now a special education coach, who created Bulldog Buddies 10 years ago.

"When I first started teaching here last year for my first year, I was like, 'Why do we not have Bulldog Buddies at the high school, too?'" she said. "It would be so beneficial."

Hellmer became a special education teacher because of former peer, Tucker Morefield.

"(He) inspired me," she said. "He was a special ed student, and he passed away when I was a junior."

"Tucker was in my class," she added. "I would spend every recess playing with him. He was one of my very best friends, even though he was in a wheelchair and he had these disabilities — that didn't stop his personality from coming out."

Her inspiration has given room for friendships like Dauwe's and Von Holten's to foster and grow. Now, every advisory period is a favorite for Von Holten.

"Coming to school, it's something I look forward to," he said. "There's some days where I'm just stressed with school and then I see him and it just all goes away."

Von Holten's friendship with Dauwe is indescribable.

"He's just been such a blessing to all of us," he said. "He's so innocent. He brings so much joy into your day."

The two have taken a liking to playing guitar together.

"Not well," Von Holten joked of his playing.

When the Variety Show auditions came around, Von Holten just couldn't shake "this feeling."

"I got this feeling where I got told, 'You need to go get Joseph's show on stage at the Variety Show and show off what he's been blessed with, gifted with,'" Von Holten said, "so I finally said, 'OK, let's do it.'"

He spoke with drama club sponsors and M-S teachers Ellen Ericson and Amber Gibbard, who in turn spoke with Jackie Dauwe, and the rest was history.

"We were very surprised to see how skilled he was and just see him command that stage when he came out without any shred of hesitation or concern, and I think that's something we can all aspire to in just being more confident in who we are," Gibbard said.

"That kid has a gift that not many have," Von Holten added. "He can play the drums and piano really well, all by the sound of his ear. I thought, 'I have to share that with people.'"

His Variety Show performances certainly wowed the crowd.

"It was just a really nice way for people to see that different doesn't mean bad," Gibbard said. "Different can mean a variety of things, and we're better when we include all of the differences in what we do."

"You can tell he loves rhythms, so once he finds that groove of a rhythm, you can't stop him," Von Holten added. "He finds what sounds good and he just goes."

"You hit the sticks together and then you bang those drums on stage," Dauwe added.

And Dauwe is loving the spotlight following his judge's choice win.

"Am I going to be famous?" Dauwe asked.

Dauwe's presence in his Thursday lunch period certainly has Mahomet-Seymour thinking so.

"He starts to clap in whatever pattern he chooses and the rest of the lunchroom just joins in," Gibbard said. "The school has embraced him and he has embraced his position in the school, and I think the rest of his three years in high school are going to be fantastic."

Mahomet's embracing of her son has left Jackie Dauwe's heart full.

"(It's) just amazing their love and acceptance," she said.

As for Von Holten's friendship, it's one she simply "can't express in words."

"It's just so comforting when you have a child with special needs to see someone take an interest in them as a person, as a friend," Jackie Dauwe said. "So many people treat people with special needs so differently and stand back from them, but here you have this young man who took time out of his day just to be kind; it's huge."

As for Joseph Stephen Dauwe's future? The Dauwes' vision for their son is limitless.

"I just hope that he can use music to glorify God and his life," she said.

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