March closes out with Best Buddies celebration

Jessica Smith

Anthony Kennedy Shriver founded Best Buddies in 1989 with the goal to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD. The organization impacts close to 700,000 individuals with and without disabilities internationally.
Here at Grand Valley State University, Best Buddies impacts around 70 people.

”What we do is pair a young adult in the area with disabilities with a college buddy, and we just build a friendship over the years or course of a year,” said Lizzie Sheldon, president of Best Buddies. “We have outings, which are usually on campus, once or twice a month where everyone comes together, and then they’re expected to hang out one-on-one once a month at least, and they need to somehow have contact with them each week.”

Best Buddies go to basketball games, watch movies in Kirkhof, have dances, but the most popular outing is bowling. In the beginning of the year, students and persons with IDD are matched up based on their similarities.

For buddies John Lamer and Steven Ergang, it was their love of food that helped bring them together.

“We like to hang out, we like to go out, we like watching movies, we like to listen to music, we like going out to eat,” Lamer said. “(My favorite restaurant) would absolutely have to be Buffalo Wild Wings. I love that place. I nailed, right before Christmas break, 24 boneless wings.”

“He likes to eat,” chimed in Ergang with a laugh.

“We go out to eat a lot. Other than liking to eat … that might be it to be honest,” Ergang laughed. “I mean we’re both pretty relaxed, chill guys and like to do whatever. We can have a good time hanging out by ourselves with nothing really elaborate planned.”

Best Buddies gives students and people like Lamer a chance to create life-enduring friendships. Some Best Buddies are together throughout their entire college experience and they become family.
Unfortunately for Sheldon, her time with her Buddy ended unexpectedly this year.

“My buddy’s name was Nicole,” Sheldon said. “She passed away a couple months ago. We were matched on our love of Taylor Swift and mashed potatoes, oh, and Reese’s peanut butter cups. We were paired since my freshman year. It was tough, but this is a great community so everyone was really supportive.”

Now, Sheldon focuses on running the organization. She encourages anyone who’s interested in being a Best Buddy to check it out.

“Anytime you want to join you can be an associate member, which means that you can be a part of the group and do all of the activities that we do, but you’re not officially matched, so it’s not much responsibility. If people are hesitant about it and want to start off that way, it’s a good thing to do,” Sheldon said. “They can join anytime in the year, but it’s best to go at the beginning because that’s when we’re really getting everything together.”

Twenty years ago, Best Buddies had a day to celebrate their organization and it’s members. Now, March is Best Buddies month and you can get involved by joining a Best Buddies friendship walk, rocking Best Buddies gear, or spreading the word to end the “R” word.

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