CAP sponsors Best Buddies Program to help people with mental disabilities

Jenn Press

Open hearts and open minds are required for the full year commitment to people with disabilities. As a new branch of the Community Action Project (CAP), Best Buddies International is entering the Quinnipiac community. Best Buddies is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing opportunities with one-on-one friendships and integrated employment, to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
According to the web site, the program was founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, and Best Buddies has grown from a single college chapter on to a vibrant, international organization involving participants annually on “more than 750 middle school, high school and college campuses in the United States, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Ireland and Sweden.”
Best Buddies has been active for the past 13 years and has touched the lives of over 175,000 individuals. Over 40,000 people are active in Best Buddies this year, supported by a budget of nearly $10,000,000. The program strives to bring those with disabilities into mainstream society.
“It’s such a rewarding experience to know that you are helping someone. It’s really important for the buddy to see that someone wants to help. It gives them something to look forward to,” said sophomore Kristin Langton, Co-college Buddy director.
“Our goal is to bring Best Buddies to every corner of the United States in the next ten years. Best Buddies programs need to be active in every community nationwide,” said the database.
A person with an intellectual disability is one who develops at a below average rate, beginning with childhood. The person consequently experiences unusual difficulty in learning and is relatively ineffective in applying whatever he/she has learned to the problems of ordinary living.
Intellectual disabilities, formerly known as mental retardation, are not contagious because they are not a disease. Intellectual disabilities may be regarded as a set of symptoms associated with a condition, disorder, or developmental history.” Paired with the 14 million college students in the U.S. and the 77 million college students worldwide, we can make a huge difference in the lives of so many. “The challenge is astounding, but with the power of volunteers and the generosity of our donors, it is attainable,” said the site.
Quinnipiac University will receive outpatients of the Department of Mental Retardation in Hamden to participate in the program. Buddies are provided for as many students available, and will be transported to campus for activities. Patients range from 17 years to approximately middle age and are highly functional. The Quinnipiac friend’s main purpose is to provide companionship, not medical care.
“They make life long friendships,” said sophomore Danielle Benfatti, Co-college Buddy director.
The goal of the program is to increase societal interaction and promote socialization amongst Quinnipiac students and buddies. This program also provides good exposure and awareness for Quinnipiac University. The experience is also beneficial for health science majors who will study these situations in their career.
One organized event will be sponsored each month on campus, and another time during the month, friends will make plans to interact with their buddy. The pair may attend a ball game on campus, see a movie, go bowling, eat dinner in the cafeteria, or meet up with a group of participants for an activity.
Friends are required to call their buddy at least once a week for a brief conversation. They are also asked to contact their buddy during school breaks to remain consistent. Any type of interaction such as e-mail, letters, or telephone calls will keep the bond strong.
The program is open to everyone, but those interested must attend the brief CAP meeting prior to participating.
Association members are students who wish to participate but are unable to fully commit. They help organize and run events for the program. An association member can sponsor a buddy along with a friendship member who may need support.
The program was attempted last year but was unsuccessful because of lack of leadership and commitment.
There are limited funds provided for the program, and CAP is hoping to raise money for this area. For the moment, the program will take advantage of the events held on campus.
Best Buddies is looking for officers to serve on the board. The committee will consist of coordinators and directors, rather than the traditional president/vice president positions.
There will be an organizational meeting at the beginning of next semester, possibly with a Valentine’s Day theme. At that time snacks and a video will be provided for the participants, as well as icebreakers to get to know one another.
Friends will then have an opportunity to interact with the buddies, and can choose who they wish to pair up with. The program prefers same sex matches, but it is more important that the team is compatible.
An information session is being held Dec. 2. For more information, or to sign up for Best Buddies, attend CAP meetings on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in SC207.