SHS Best Buddies pair, adviser receive state honors


Payton Toepfert decided to check her email one day and found a message that was sent three days prior.

She was pleasantly surprised to learn she won a chapter award from Best Buddies Indiana.

The Seymour High School senior and sophomore Karsen Allman were named Buddy Pair of the Year for the state.

Best Buddies International is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to

Best Buddies Friendship programs represent one of the organization’s four key mission pillars. The programs build one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities, offering social interactions while improving the quality of life and level of inclusion for a population that is often isolated and excluded.

Through their participation, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities form meaningful connections with their peers, gain self-confidence and self-esteem and share interests, experiences and activities that many other individuals enjoy.

This was Seymour High School’s second school year with a Best Buddies chapter, and it has won Buddy Pair of the Year both years. A.J. Engel and Aidan Hiester won it in 2020.

“I’m honestly shocked because I procrastinated opening the email. It was like three days late,” Toepfert said, smiling. “I’m proud of us. I don’t do any of this for the recognition, but if it helps show people that it’s OK to include (then she’s happy).”

Of the seven chapter awards given each year, Seymour also won Adviser of the Year. That went to Alanie Flack.

She spent three years leading the Best Buddies chapters at Columbus East and Columbus North high schools before waiting a year after moving to SHS to get it established there.

“Just being able to take that experience and apply it to this new chapter, it was actually something I wanted to do at a previous school and didn’t get that accomplished, so I knew when I came to Seymour that I really wanted to get a Best Buddies chapter going, especially with Special Olympics, Unified track, we have a strong peer tutoring program,” Flack said.

“I took a year to get into my new role, and we implemented that,” she said. “It’s a program that we just have to keep working on and building, but I’m really proud of where we are right now.”

Winning an award also came as a surprise to Flack. She didn’t even know she was nominated until Toepfert sent her a screenshot of the award winners listed in the email.

“I was like, ‘Oh, what? What’s going on here? What’s she sending me?’ Then I was able to open up my own email and see it on there,” Flack said.

If she had to guess, Toepfert and junior Samantha Foster nominated Flack for the award.

“I have girls that really do the bulk of my duties,” Flack said. “I’m the one who does the paperwork and talks to administrators about events. I do try to coordinate things and give some past experience from when I was Best Buddies sponsor in Columbus.”

Seymour’s first two years of Best Buddies have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, members were able to form friendships and participate in activities in and out of school.

While Flack said she normally likes for pairs to just spend one year together, Toepfert and Allman were an exception and remained together for two years.

This year, Toepfert said she and Allman went to a Jackson Snelling concert at Harmony Park and attended the chapter’s Best Buddies Friendship Walk at SHS.

“Sometimes, we just kind of hang out at her house, watch ‘The Wiggles’ and nap and snack,” Toepfert said.

She also has become close to the Allman family.

“She has a twin sister, and if she needs anything, she’ll get ahold of me and we’ll talk,” Toepfert said. “Their older sister likes me, and their grandparents like me. I’ve gained a family because I was at their Christmas this past year and Thanksgiving. Actually, I wrapped some of their Christmas presents.”

Karsen’s mother, Lissa Allman, said she still remembers two years ago when they were sitting on their front porch and Toepfert pulled up to introduce herself.

“At that point, I never dreamed this program would be exactly what it was meant to be: Friendship and inclusion,” Lissa said.

Karsen cannot speak her wants and needs, so Lissa is her voice, and so is Toepfert, particularly at school.

“I have seen Karsen want to be part of her neuro-typical twin sister’s life for many years,” Lissa said. “She gets to experience what it is like to have a friend that is not her family or others of special needs. Inclusion is what is so important to our children with special needs.”

Seeing the bond between Payton and Karsen is something anyone who knows them would be so proud of, Lissa said.

“God absolutely knew what he was doing when putting Payton in Karsen’s life,” she said. “Seeing the two together is so rewarding in so many ways. Payton has made such a positive impact on Karsen.”

Special needs students can and will feel much isolation day in and day out throughout their lifetime, Lissa said, but Best Buddies works on building relationships with those with special needs and typical peers.

“It works,” Lissa said. “When Karsen sees Payton, she lights up, and although she cannot tell us, it’s obvious Payton is her best friend. They laugh together, hang out like typical teenagers, go out to eat or get ice cream. Besides family, Karsen would not get this with another teen peer.”

Lissa said Payton is a blessing for Karsen and their family.

“I say she is my adopted daughter because she and her family have become part of ours,” Lissa said. “She never ceases to amaze me in knowing about Karsen and how to take care of her physically and mentally. I cannot ever give her the thanks she deserves. Karsen never really had a friend until this program, and the love between them is incredible.”

Flack said Seymour winning state Buddy Pair of the Year both years of the chapter’s existence is a great way to start the program.

“Payton and Karsen are really what Best Buddies is about — developing a lifelong friendship,” Flack said. “They are together a lot, and Payton can assist Karsen in school, but also, she gives Karsen some experiences that she probably wouldn’t have, at least in the frequency that typical high-schoolers do. And Payton has been welcomed into their family. … I think that it’s just neat to see how they’ve grown the last two years.”

The SHS chapter had more than 20 members in the 2020-21 school year, and Flack looks forward to seeing the program continue in the years to come.

“Our mission in Best Buddies in Seymour is just to continue to involve our community and just to give as many folks the typical high school experience,” she said.

“Parents are dropping their kids off for school events for the first time in their lives, they are having friends over or having phone calls or things like that that hasn’t been their experience in school, but yet we are facilitating those relationships,” she said. “It’s just important to get everyone included and to have as much of that high school experience as you can.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”On the Web” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

For information about Best Buddies Indiana, visit


No posts to display