For a school to host a beach party at its gym in the middle of winter probably requires a sense of fun and a different way of looking at things. For Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, hosting the annual Beach Party for Potomac Community Resources, Inc., on Feb. 6 reflected a longstanding partnership between that Catholic girls school’s Best Buddies program and PCR, which provides therapeutic, recreational, social and respite care programs for teens and adults with developmental differences.

On that night, the school’s gym turned into a beach party with Holy Child students and PCR members wearing Hawaiian shirts and leis and dancing, playing volleyball with a beach ball, and doing a variety of crafts.

“I really don’t like to view this as service. I look at it as something fun to do on a Saturday night with friends,” said Molly Shriver, a Holy Child senior and leader in its Best Buddies chapter, which is part of an international organization that promotes friendships for people with intellectual and developmental differences.

The friends from Holy Child and Potomac Community Resources smiled and danced to songs like “Party Rock Anthem,” “Greased Lightning,” “Thriller,” “Party Rock Anthem” and “Gangnam Style.” The partygoers included 241 PCR members and 46 Holy Child volunteers, along with 12 PCR staff people.

Lilly Paro, another Holy Child senior and leader in the Best Buddies chapter, said of the party, “You can definitely feel the love coming both ways.” The best part for her, she said, is “maybe to see somebody come out of their shell. At the end, they’re in the middle of the dance floor, busting a move!”

Both those students, who are also members of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, will be honored as outstanding youth volunteers on April 16 at the 20th annual Patricia Sullivan Benefit Dinner for Potomac Community Resources.

Jim Sullivan, a co-founder of Potomac Community Resources who serves as its president, watched the party unfold and said the event offers PCR members and their friends a chance “to get loose and have a good time, just like everybody else in society does.”

He and his wife, Joan Tynan Sullivan, were inspired by their daughter, Tricia – who had developmental differences – to work with other parishioners at Our Lady of Mercy and their pastor at that time, Msgr. John Enzler, to found Potomac Community Resources in 1994. Since then, PCR has grown to provide 35 programs annually and been recognized as one of the best small charities in the greater Washington region. PCR has partnered with the Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Special Needs Ministries and Catholic Charities to help replicate six similar programs throughout the region, including in Washington, Southern Maryland, Prince George’s County and upper Montgomery County, with the newest serving Spanish-speaking families.

Watching the students and PCR members having fun that evening, Jim Sullivan said, “Anyone who volunteers, they walk away changed. The barriers come down. One reason we exist is to help our society see what these people are all about. They’re just people, like anyone else.”

At the beach party, PCR member Lucy Collins, who has Down syndrome, said she liked dancing to the music and playing volleyball the best. “I’m a good dancer,” said Collins, a graduate of the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington who now works at the daycare program for teachers’ children at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington. Her favorite part of her job at Visitation is reading to the young children there and “just being with them,” she said.

Maria Guadalupe, another PCR member with Down syndrome, smiled and said, “I like to talk to my friends and dance and sing.”

Molly Shriver added, “My favorite part of tonight is seeing all my friends from PCR and being greeted by their huge, warm hugs and excited smiles.”

The Holy Child student said that the activities like PCR’s Beach Party, Halloween Party and Holiday Parity which the school’s Best Buddies chapter host, help both the students and PCR members see friendships in a new way. The friends also have girls’ nights together, watching movies and painting each other’s nails.

“Friendship has no restrictions on what people look like, how old people are, their gender, what their abilities are,” Shriver said.

Lilly Paro said the friendships they form are lifelong, starting with shared fun times together, like at the Beach Party. “I’m always on the dance floor, getting in dance battles with members,” she said.

Paro noted that Cornelia Connelly – the foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and its network of schools, which includes Connelly School of the Holy Child – adopted a simple motto for her religious community and her schools; “Action, not words.”

“With PCR and Best Buddies, we’re following that through,” Paro said. “It makes our relationship with God so much stronger.”

Molly Shriver added, “God asks us to serve others. Our friends at PCR, we’re serving them with the party. They’re serving us with their friendship. It’s a win-win” situation.

Jean Plummer, the director of campus ministry at Holy Child, also noted that Cornelia Connelly “talked about putting love into action… God is love, and we’re called to love.” The Beach Party, she said, provides “an opportunity for our girls to have the experience of loving others and being loved.”

The friendships formed between Holy Child students and PCR members have caused some of the students to go on to major in special education, like Jennie Trocchio, who through Holy Child’s Best Buddies program became best friends with PCR member Kate Riley, who has Down syndrome. Trocchio went on to earn a doctoral degree and now works in autism education in Florida, and when she got married, she asked Kate, her best friend, to be a bridesmaid at her wedding. They still call each other and get together when they can.

Trocchio, who in an email noted that at one point, the Holy Child students and their PCR friends formed “The Totally Whatever Girls Band,” joked that due to her own lack of musical ability, she was “quickly demoted to backup dancer.” She said her involvement with Best Buddies and Potomac Community Services taught her lessons that continue to guide her life and work, especially “the importance of relationships, and to look beyond labels to see the person.” Trocchio said she incorporates those lessons “into everything I do.”

(For information on the April 16 Patricia Sullivan Benefit Dinner for Potomac Community Resources, visit or contact Steve Riley at [email protected].)