Best Buddies Club builds bonds between students and people with disabilities

Best Buddies Club builds bonds between students and people with disabilities

UC Davis Best Buddies chapter pairs students with individuals in Yolo County that have intellectual or developmental disabilities, creating new friendships

A friend with whom one may not be able to fully communicate. A friend that looks different from one’s other peers. A friend that does not go to UC Davis. But still a friend indeed.

“Best Buddies is a nonprofit, international organization with chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges that aims to promote self advocacy, provide job opportunities and normalize friendships between students and people with intellectual or developmental disabilities,” said Brittany Black a third-year human development major and president of the Best Buddies Club.

At UC Davis, Black said that the club focuses on the aspect of normalizing friendships by pairing college students with “buddies” or people in Yolo county with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“The misconception is that we are helping people with disabilities, which in a way we are, since we are promoting inclusion and helping people,” Black said. “But it is friendship.”

At the beginning of the school year, the club sent out information via email to recruit members. They then interviewed each interested student one-on-one to find out their experience working with people with disabilities and what their interests were. This helped the club pair up students and buddies with similar interests, Black said.

“It’s a year-long commitment from the time we match people in November through June 15,” Black said.

Buddies have varying abilities, and some are more social and verbal than others. Buddies are not UC Davis students, but they are all members of the Davis, Woodland or Dixon community.

“Most buddies are older than the students,” said Katherine Provost, a third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and activities coordinator for Best Buddies. “Many participated in Best Buddies programs in high school and moved to the UC Davis program once they graduated.”

“The club plans about two or three events each month for members to come together and socialize,” said third-year human development major and historian and publicity officer of Best Buddies Sarah Moore.

Event examples include a holiday party, a match party, a talent show, a craft day, a scavenger hunt, Valentines and Halloween dances, sport days and various fundraisers.

“I love going out and hanging out with everyone, a lot of the people in the club are my closest friends,” Provost said.

“UC Davis students and their buddies are encouraged to get together on their own in addition to attending the events,” Moore said.

Examples of activities members do include biking around the Arboretum, watching movies, going to the farmers market, going on picnics or out to dinner or playing sports together.

“It is not much different than any other friendship,” Moore said.

Approximately 120 people participate in Best Buddies at UC Davis.

“About 106 people are matched in friendships and 15 members are associate members, which means they attend events and have similar requirements, but they do not have matches,” Moore said.   

“We recommend [becoming an associate member] for people who aren’t sure how much time they will have or they are not sure about the club,” Moore said. “It still is a commitment because we have requirements for the members.”

Provost said that being a member of the club has helped her learn how to communicate with people in different ways, such as without speaking, since some buddies are non-verbal.  

“It seems like it would be different or intimidating, and people might be worried what to say to someone with Down syndrome, but it it is really like hanging out with any other friend,” Black said.

The Best Buddies club accepts members all year round. Even though most matches are made at the beginning of the year, it is still possible to get paired with a buddy in the middle of the year if people graduate or study abroad.

“I’ve met some really awesome friends through the club,” Moore said. “Everyone is so positive and a joy to be around. I am always greeted with smiles and [by] people who genuinely ask how you are doing and care about you.”

Written by: Margo Rosenbaum — features@theaggie.org

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