To celebrate Halloween, the Best Buddies organization planned a party for their monthly activity, but attendance was low. The nine in attendance spent the time talking and decorating cookies.
Best Buddies currently has eight college students paired with disabled buddies. The organization matches students with people with mental disabilities to create lasting friendships. Four others are in the process of registering, but the organization is looking for more volunteers.
Melinda Taggart decided to try Best Buddies for the first time at the Halloween event. She works at the Community Involvement Center and often hears about these kinds of events.
“I’m having a blast,” Taggart said at the event. “I wanted to volunteer for a while. I think I will (join).”
The club is fairly new, and most members have not been involved for long.
Kelsey Langston, director of Best Buddies, is still in her first year of the position after transferring to Weber State University from Snow College.
“I want to make a difference,” she said. “I went to an Indiana conference and I fell in love with the program.”
To become a “buddy,” students take a survey online to match them with a person with disabilities. They then become buddies with the person they are most compatible with. The students contact their buddies at least once a week and have an activity at least twice a month. They can do anything from going to see a movie to just watching sports. The whole organization has an event at least once a month.
“They brag about all the cool stuff they’ve done,” Langston said.
Langston said one of the benefits of volunteering in the club is learning empathy for their disabled buddies.
“(Students) learn patience and how to put themselves aside,” Langston said. “They learn how to walk in someone else’s shoes.”
Some of the pairs have been buddies since they joined back in junior high. Langston talks to her buddy, Simon, every day. The members of Best Buddies are learning skills that help them in life. Many of the disabled members have jobs, which is why most of the Best Buddies events take place after 5 p.m., when they get off from work.
One of the new initiatives Best Buddies is doing is trying to stop people from using the word “retarded.” The cause is called “Spread the Word to End the Word.”
“It hurts their feelings,” Langston said. “They know it’s not a nice word.”
Best Buddies’ next event is a fundraiser to raise money for activities. Some of the buddies have never done things such as snowboarding. The organization is trying to raise money so they can buy passes to take them on more expensive outings.
Langston said Best Buddies needs more volunteers. They are especially looking for people to be regular buddies. They also need volunteers who can come to certain events and fill in for people who can’t come.
“We also want to spread awareness,” Langston said. “They’re there, people who will help them out and be that one person that stands up for them.”
She said they especially want people to look past the disability and see the person.
“Don’t see the person as ‘that Down syndrome kid,’ but as Tom, who has Down syndrome,” Langston said.