‘Best Buddies’ at SHU Means More Than Just Friendship

News Story: February 1, 2010

During a recent Best Buddies gathering, from left, buddy Jeff shared time with juniors Megan O'Donnell and Emily Izzo.

“Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world,” wrote the psychologist and philosopher William James. Seeking to expand the world both for themselves and for others, 55 SHU students are now participating in the Best Buddies program, a student-run club at Sacred Heart University.

Best Buddies, an international non-profit organization, provides opportunities for friendship between people with and without intellectual disabilities. The relationship each pair forms is always unique and special.

There are two ways to become involved with Best Buddies at SHU. Each “college buddy” is matched with an intellectually challenged person, and agrees to visit, meet with, or call his or her “buddy” once a week throughout the school year. Associates assist in fundraising, help with public relations, and attend group events and outings.

From left, sophomore Gail Gillespie, buddy Lenny, Kate Carter, senior Stephanie Reyes and junior Amanda Franchini shared time together in University Commons.

Emilie Latainer, the chapter leader, commented on membership and activities. “We are extremely lucky to have so many committed students. We have over 30 college buddies and more than 25 associate members. We hold monthly events, where all the college members and buddies meet on campus to hang out. We’ve had events such as a carnival, a fiesta, Thanksgiving dinner, and gingerbread-house making with a live performer. This semester, we are planning a joint event with Habitat for Humanity on campus and a Best Buddies Prom.”

Interestingly, several members report earlier experiences that nudged them to join Best Buddies. Matt Somerville said, “I had been involved with the Special Olympics in high school, and I enjoyed doing it so I wanted to continue it in college.” Katrina Willette put it this way: “Growing up, I always volunteered to work with special needs children. When I came to SHU, I missed the experience and relationships I had shared. When I saw the global email announcing that Best Buddies was accepting new college members, I felt like it was the perfect opportunity for me.” Ms. Latainer, who was similarly involved in high school, remembered, “I first found out about Best Buddies my freshman year of college at the Activities Fair.”

From left are freshman Alyssa Baldauf, buddy Katrina and SHU's Best Buddies chapter President Emilie Latainer.

Erin MacDonald reflected on her experience being a buddy, “Offering a friendship is a little act of kindness that goes an extremely long way. I think that the buddies benefit tremendously. Since they may not have that many friends in their everyday life, maybe just their families, the idea of building a friendship is very significant to them. I usually get lunch with my buddy Jonathan once a week. I have always had a steady group of friends growing up and hadn’t thought much about the significance of a friendship. Yet after seeing how appreciative the buddies are to have someone to talk to, it has helped me reevaluate friendships in my own life as well.” Katrina Willette added, “My buddy is somebody who helps me appreciate the little things in life. He keeps my life in balance and doesn't let me get too overwhelmed without having fun.”

From left are junior Amanda Stone, Bessie, senior Aurora Appel, Matthew, senior Steve Antonson and junior Shannon Rush.

Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant international organization that has grown from one original chapter to more than 1,500 college, high school, and middle school campuses across the country and internationally. 

“Friendship,” according to Shriver, “is the key to building the self-esteem necessary for a happy and productive life. At Best Buddies, we envision a world where people with intellectual disabilities are recognized for their abilities, embraced by society and valued in the workplace.”

Has Best Buddies succeeded at SHU?  The answer may be evident in the chapter’s numerous awards: Outstanding Chapter for the state of Connecticut in 2008 and 2009; Outstanding Chapter internationally in 2008; and Campus Life Leadership Award for Best Fundraiser (“Midnight Madness”) in 2009. In addition, Ms. Latainer received the Outstanding Leadership Award for the state of Connecticut in 2009 by Best Buddies Connecticut.