GVSU Best Buddies gives friendship a new name

Jenna Schook

In a time when being different is not accepted, it is important to see that there are people all over the world who are willing to give their time and friendship to the people who may need it the most; that is what Best Buddies is all about.

“Media sometimes tells us we should not treat (those with disabilities) like our other friends but Best Buddies teaches people how to interact with them,” said Taylor VanLiere, member of the Grand Valley State University Best Buddies club. “They just want to be treated like normal people.”

This international club is designed to give people with intellectual and developmental disabilities friendship, leadership opportunities and life skills through one-on-one interactions with group members.

Originally, Best Buddies was founded in 1989 by Anthony Shriver, with this exact idea in mind. He wanted people with Developmental Disabilities (IDD) to have equal opportunities. It has now spread across six continents including North America, with chapters in all 50 U.S. states.

Bekah Baker, vice president of the club, said Best Buddies has around 130 members and is continuing to grow. Best Buddies at GVSU is just one chapter of thousands all over the world. The GVSU chapter is made up of students of all different backgrounds and majors, and the club was started at GVSU in 1989.

In addition, she said college buddies are encouraged make plans to meet with their buddies throughout the week. The club has a bowling trip planned for Jan. 30, where those with IDD and their college buddies from GVSU can laugh and enjoy a bit of time away from their busy lives.

Buddies look forward to their regular meetings, as well as frequent conversations. VanLiere said she has twice-weekly calls with her buddy on Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. She said even if “it is 6:01 p.m. she is calling me to talk.”

When asked what the club brings to GVSU, both Baker and VanLiere said simultaneously: Friendship.

Best Buddies gives students the opportunity to “create a friendship with someone with a disability and make them feel special,” VanLiere said.

The buddies that students are paired up with are adults who typically only have close family friends, but they are happy to make friends outside of their families.

Baker said many alumni are still in contact with their buddies. Best Buddies does not only benefit the buddy, but also the students at GVSU. She said it is an opportunity for students to give back to the surrounding communities, teach students acceptance and how to act around people with disabilities.

“It gives me a sense of doing something good,” VanLiere said.

Those who are unsure about becoming a college buddy, are still welcome to join and become an associate buddy, someone who goes to the events and hangs out with other students along with their buddies.

When ready to personally become a buddy, one can go to www.bestbuddiesonline.org and fill out a matching survey that will match the student with a buddy based on similar interests. To get involved with Best Buddies at GVSU, contact [email protected]