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A program with “distinct influence”

Bhreagh Kennedy is about to meet her buddy for the first time. She joined Best Buddies – a national organization dedicated to building strong friendships between student volunteers and adults with intellectual disabilities. Dalhousie University and the University of King’s College participate in the program. The schools pair student volunteers with buddies for meetings twice a month and weekly phone calls or e-mails.

Kennedy, who has a younger sister with Down syndrome, knows working with people with intellectual disabilities can be intimidating. She says in this program “you are simply their buddy, not their babysitter.”  The co-ordinators provide a support system for the student volunteers so “the responsibilityis totally manageable,” she says.

George Reid has been with Best Buddies for over 10 years and has had four student volunteers buddied with him.

“If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be here,” he says with a grin.

Reid, now a buddy advocate for the program, gives speeches and participates in other forms of public speaking. He plans to stick with Best Buddies for years to come.

“It has a distinct influence on their lives,” says Asher Goldstein, chapter co-ordinator at the University of King’s College.

Goldstein, who’s in his second year with the organization, says he’s encountered difficulties. His buddy is much older, making it difficult to find common interests. He says he still found the past year a great experience.

“We do all kinds of things when we hang out like going out for a movie, coffee or winter surfing. We went bowling a number of times last year and I got my butt kicked,” says Goldstein laughing.

The organization faces many challenges. There are a large number of students whose inconsistency causes problems for their buddies.

“Being forgotten is hurtful to anybody but it gets amplified for the individuals with intellectual disabilities, as this is a special thing for them. They really look forward to these get-togethers and when you stop coming it hurts them a lot more,” says Goldstein.

“Students tend to fall through,” adds Laura Hochman, another chapter co-ordinator. This is an unfortunate reality to program that requires a year-long commitment.

To support the volunteers, Best Buddies hosts group outings where all the pairs meet for different activities.

“They are lots of fun for everyone and this way if you can’t make it out it’s okay. But ultimately it is a big responsibility for the volunteer that has to be taken seriously,” says Hochman.

According to the Best Buddies homepage, “individuals with intellectual disabilities have a lifelong impairment to a person’s ability to learn or adapt to their environments.” This doesn’t include mental illness, psychological disabilities, learning disabilities, or a psychiatric condition. Autism and Down syndrome are examples of intellectual disabilities.

Student volunteers are paired with their buddies through an interview process and matched based on compatibility. The deadline for student applications to volunteer with someone for a year-long commitment to Best Buddies through the University of King’s College is Oct. 30, 2009.

The Dalhousie University chapter is soon closing its applications for the upcoming year. Anyone wishing to get involved can check out www.bestbuddies.ca.

Katrina Pyne
Katrina Pyne
Katrina was Editor-in-chief of the Gazette for Volume 145 and News Editor for Volume 144.

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