Best Buddies creates connections and community


Courtesy / GVSU Best Buddies

Chloe Schram, Staff Writer

Best Buddies International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a positive environment to establish friendships, employment and leadership opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). 

This organization empowers individuals with special needs to live independently, make friends and develop communication skills and self-advocacy.

Best Buddies is the largest organization in the world that fights to end the physical, social and economic isolation of the 200 million people who have IDD which includes individuals with Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other disabilities.

Best Buddies International has been creating a community for people all over the world for over 50 years. 23,524 colleges participate in the Best Buddies program, including a student organization at Grand Valley State University. Best Buddies has a club at Grand Valley State University in which students can volunteer and make connections. 

GVSU sophomore Amaya Hankins is President of the Best Buddies club at GVSU and feels Best Buddies creates a good space to become more deeply involved in the community. 

“My favorite part of best buddies is the tight-knit community that we’ve built as college students and community members,” Hankins said. “I think our club is very unique in the way that we all have been able to connect with one another on a personal level and find something that we have in common with each other.”

Best Buddies hosts meetings every month, creates fun events and other engagement activities to connect with the wider community. Some previous events have included a trip to the John Ball Zoo, potlucks, movie watching parties and bowling. 

“Once a month we put on fun and exciting events for adults with cognitive impairments to have a chance to socialize with college students and create long-lasting friendships,” Hankins said. “I feel like this organization is important because it gives both parties a chance to experience what it means to have diverse friendships. Too often in society, people face discrimination or prejudice based on their disability, when in reality their disability does not define who they are.” 

Best Buddies gives students an opportunity to create more diverse friendships and find ways to connect, despite their differences. 

“As club members, we value putting personality above disability,” Hankins said. “Our buddies are the most loving and genuine group of people I have ever met, and I can’t wait to continue building our friendship together.” 

Emalee Stevens, the vice president of Best Buddies at GVSU said the organization helps raise awareness and create lifelong friendships. She encourages people to get involved with the organization as early as they can and feels that the organization has the ability to impact many people’s lives. 

“The people (in Best Buddies) are honestly the best part of the club, we always have a great time at the different events each month,” Stevens said. “I joined my sophomore year and my only regret is not joining sooner.” 

50 states and 47 different countries are involved in Best Buddies International, bringing attention to the experiences of people with disabilities and creating a space for people to come together. Stevens said that the work that these various chapters do can create new networks that further understanding across the board. 

“One reason that I feel this organization is important is because it helps raise awareness to people of all different age groups for those who have a disability,” Stevens said. “Another reason why I feel the organization is important is because it gives our buddies the opportunity to go out and try new things and meet new people as a group.”