The organization Best Buddies works in tandem with adults who have developmental and intellectual disabilities to form lifelong friendships, and advocates for a message of inclusion. Although the club has had to alter their traditional setup due to COVID-19, they are still formulating ways to participate while staying safe.
Best Buddies has monthly Zoom meetings on Wednesday’s, and one Friday a month they will be holding two Zoom interactive events; the initial will be 10-10:30 a.m., the latter held from 2-2:30 p.m. Within the events, the members will interact with their buddies through a variety of activities such as playing games, watching a TV show, singing karaoke, creating arts and crafts and much more!
“It has been a challenge (The transition to Zoom,) but we are excited to see how it goes," said President Megan Nau. “Over the summer, my officers and I sent all 60+ buddies letters in the mail with handmade cards and invitations to Zoom links to have summer events. However, lots of our buddies do not have access to the internet at home and did not know how to use Zoom … (the director) generously allowed us to take a chunk out of their workday so they can have events with us via Zoom since they have a computer lab.”
With COVID-19 altering the format of group meetings, the group is offering many ways of participation so every student has the ability to contribute. Within the organization, there are two different types of buddies a student can be; an associate buddy or a peer buddy.
Got a packed schedule, but still want to be a member? When you join as an Associate Buddy, it is a less committed position that is formulated for the busier student. You have the ability to become a contributing member of the chapter through attendance of meetings and group activities, while holding a less committed position.
If you want to be an active member within the organization, then the Peer Buddy position is for you! Within, you make contact with your buddy once a week, in conjunction with one or two outings with your buddy per month. These outings can be done virtually or you in person if you, your buddy and their caretaker are comfortable with meeting.
Along with the opportunity to contribute to a global volunteer movement dedicated to the leadership development and inclusivity of people with developmental disabilities, you can win a variety of prizes just through your participation.
“We are giving our members incentives along the way for their participation! Active members will have the chance to win a gift card and be featured on our social media as member of the month,” stated president Megan Nau.
You even have the ability to win amazing prizes solely through attending the monthly meeting. “We also have raffles at most meetings and all participants have the chance to win a Best Buddies t-shirt,” Megan Nau detailed.
Nau ensures that even if you have class during the meeting times, you can still be a participating member of the organization. Any individual on campus has the ability to become a member of this life-altering organization!
“What makes best buddies different is that anybody can join,” said member Erin Stiffler when asked on why people should join. “You don't have to be good at sports or have a talent. It's just for kind people who want to be kind to others.”
Erin Stiffler details that she was inspired through her Aunts work within respite care, and how the exposure to her line of work inspired her to join the organization. “I want to become an Occupational Therapist, and many of my patients will be on the spectrum. So, this fits perfect with my goals in life.”
Stiffler expresses the importance of Best Buddies, as being a member inspires her to become a better version of herself solely through her participation. She noted the importance of the organization during our current climate, as the need to formulate these social connections is continuously growing in essentialism.
“I think the club is essential whether or not COVID-19 is present, but it’s even more so important we reach out to our buddies during this time.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to create barriers within every faction of our daily lives.
However, Nau’s work within the organization shines a light to the fact that individuals with special needs are affected to the highest degree, and participation within outreach programs such as Best Buddies is more crucial than ever.
“Individuals with disabilities often lack resources to communicate, especially virtually. In hard times like this it is more important than ever to reach out and connect to them,” Megan Nau stated.
In times such as these, organizations that spread a message of inclusivity and acceptance are vital. The opportunities presented through participation within the groups grant individuals the ability to be a part of a growing movement of people dedicated to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to have a friend, regardless of mental disabilities.
Even if you do not plan to work with individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities after graduation, the exposure to this organization allow you to help these persons grow and gain social skills throughout the variety of activities organized through Best Buddies. Working within the organization has the ability to provide life-lessons and fulfillment, to both of the participating buddies.
Megan Nau’s commented on the experience encapsulates the ideals best, “Best Buddies is a lifechanging experience. I have been in it since my freshman year and now in my senior year as President, I can't imagine my future without it. It has given me a new perspective on life and has made me a better person.”
The monumental work put into the organization by members such as Nau and Stiffler proved to be extraordinary, as this year the Best Buddies Salisbury chapter won the title of “College Chapter of the Year” throughout the Entire State of Maryland.
Whether you are a Peer Buddy or an Associate Buddy, a half an hour out of your week translates to a lifetime of change for the members of the Best Buddies organization. Through their message of empowerment regarding self-advocacy and improvement of communicable skills, you have the ability to provide these individuals with necessary skills to assist their future employment, improving public speaking and transitioning into living in a more independent lifestyle.
The perspectives that both buddies can provide can prove to make each participating individual more empathetic, through providing each with a view into a world that neither would necessarily have exposure to. The dualistic empathy that the Best Buddies organization has the ability to strengthen our community as a whole, and allows for people to be seen as people and not as categories.
Interested in changing a life? Do not hesitate to reach out and become a member of Best Buddies! Email President Megan Nau at firstname.lastname@example.org or Vice President Allison Bahen at email@example.com
By STEPHANIE RIVERA
Gull Life editor
Cover Photo: Best Buddies International