Best Buddies Chapter President Anna Cullen, a special education major, believes inclusion on campus is extremely important, and Best Buddies promotes a positive and all-inclusive environment.
“Best Buddies is important because it is all about inclusion,” says Cullen. “For people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities, feeling included with their typical peers can be extremely difficult.”
Best Buddies International is a non-profit organization that pairs volunteers, or buddies, with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, with the goal of fostering personal friendships as well as a more inclusive society. Southern’s chapter, which has existed for almost 30 years, gives students an opportunity to take part in such relationships at Chapel Haven, an independent living facility that accommodates individuals with various social and developmental disabilities.
Best Buddies aims to fix the difficulty to connect. While the primary focus is creating personal connections between buddies, the organization also aims to spread awareness of exclusive behaviors, such as ending the use of the r-word through the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.
“We try to go out and educate people and tell them ‘Well, you wouldn’t say this word, so why would you say this word,” says Cullen.
In addition, students can be a committed, weekly buddy, also known as a peer buddy. Members of the club can also sign up to be associate buddies, which involves attending meetings, but do not involve one-to-one pairings with someone else.
“It’s not as big of a commitment,” says Cullen.
Students can also donate on the organization’s website, as well as participate in the annual Friendship Walk, which supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to the walk’s website.
Chapter adviser MaryJo Archambault, assistant professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies, was enthusiastic about the level of engagement that took place at the first meeting of the semester at Chapel Haven.
“I was immediately impressed by the energy in the room,” says Archambault, “Just watching the interactions between the two groups was fabulous.”
She believes Best Buddies is a good way for students to interact with those that are different from them. She also notes more students should get involved.
“We need more students to enroll in Best Buddies because we don’t have enough students to partner with the individuals in Chapel Haven,” says Archambault. “Every student on campus should…appreciate diversity and learn how to work with people that may have different abilities than themselves,”
Archambault adds, “I think the more comfortable you are working with people of diverse abilities…it’s an opportunity to form better relationships.”
Jonathan Meyers, a sophomore and communication major, has been involved with Best Buddies since he was a senior in high school. Having been a member of the organization for over two years, he has held an officer position, which involves attending the Best Buddies Leadership Conference. He says a specific keynote speaker at the conference impacted him greatly.
“There was a person who spoke at the leadership conference and said that he was considering taking his life, until he found Best Buddies and was able to make friends,” said Meyers. “That was pretty powerful to see.”
Kelly Bickell, a senior and recreational therapy major, is the secretary of the Best Buddies chapter. Having also been involved with the non-profit in high school, she was eager to continue contributing.
“Once I came to Southern, I immediately went to Best Buddies again, since I had such a great experience in high school,” says Bickell.
For her, having an impact on her buddy’s life is important.
“We’ve gotten lunch before,” says Bickell, about an experience she once had with her buddy. “We walked to a restaurant on Whalley Avenue and it really feels nice to know that we have a true friendship.”
It is the shared experiences between the buddies that is the real heart of the club; when students and their buddies have experiences such as those, it can truly make a difference for both members.
“By hanging out with my buddy I really shared everything that was going on in my life, and he really appreciated that a lot,” says Bickell. “Just knowing the impact, I had was a great memory for me.”
By Cesar Gonzalez