Anyone who has ever gone to a new school or moved to a new neighborhood knows how tough it can be to make friends when you feel like an outsider.
Luckily for people of the Davis community, there is a new organization dedicated to making everyone feel at home.
A new chapter of Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing friends to people with intellectual disabilities, recently opened at UC Davis.
“People can get a sense that they’re not different, and that people like them just for who they are,” said Carys Arvidson, president of UC Davis Best Buddies. “They’re people that need to be loved, too, and I think they get that friendship where it doesn’t matter.”
Best Buddies was founded in 1989, with a mission of matching intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals with volunteer “buddies.” The Davis chapter is just two years old and working to establish itself in the community, said Arvidson, a junior history major.
Though volunteers are UC Davis students, buddies range from high school students to older individuals living in and around Davis. As president, Arvidson creates buddy pairs by interviewing buddies and volunteers to determine their compatibility.
“I try to find their interests and match them on how they’ll get along, like if they’re outgoing or shy,” Arvidson said.
Once matched with a buddy, volunteers must commit to their buddies for one academic year. This includes contacting their buddy at least once a week and seeing him or her at least twice a month.
Anthony Evaristo, an officer and member for two years, said that he and his buddy do a variety of activities when they get together.
“We’ve gone bowling, gone out to dinner together, to the movies together, just hung out together at my apartment or his apartment or we’ve gone swimming and played video games,” said Evaristo, a sophomore psychology major. “We’ve done almost everything.”
The club also holds events such as potlucks, crafting and attending basketball games. Fundraisers help alleviate the costs of food, decorations and event space rentals.
Jessica Benes, another officer, said that people often have ideas of how people with disabilities act that simply aren’t true.
“A lot of our problem is ignorance. It’s almost a fear,” said Benes, a sophomore human development major. “People think, ‘Are they just going to drop down into a seizure or are they going to blurt out things and be rude?’ People have all these weird preconceived notions of how these kids are supposed to act because of what they’ve seen in movies and heard in jokes.”
Evaristo said that having a buddy has taught him how similar people with disabilities are to everyone else.
“Before Best Buddies I really didn’t know anything about kids with Down Syndrome and how they interact with other people,” he said. “But now I’m able to see who they are, that they’re people just like you and me and they want friends and they’re really fun to hang around with.”
Volunteers sometimes become so close to their buddies, they stay friends long after they have left Best Buddies.
“I’m still friends with my buddy from high school, and we call each other all the time and every time I go home we go out,” said Arvidson, who was a member of her high school chapter before coming to Davis.
Best Buddies volunteers emphasize the importance of being a friend to people with disabilities.
“Take the time to sit down and get to know them,” Benes said. “Maybe they can’t learn as fast as you or they can’t hold the longest conversation but there’s a beautiful purity about them. They love life and they want to know people and they trust you if you get to that point.”
Those interested in joining Best Buddies can e-mail Arvidson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, check out their Facebook group or bestbuddies.org for more information.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at email@example.com.