Best Buddies shine in the Friendship Walk

The yearly Friendship Walk was a rousing success, even if Mother Nature failed to cooperate


Phil Akre, Staff Writer

If there’s one thing you can count on at every Best Buddies Friendship Walk, it’s a big, enthusiastic crowd. It doesn’t matter if there’s rain, gray skies or heavy winds –those in attendance are always smiling or laughing, the joyous hum palpable.

Such was the case on Sunday, Oct. 29, at this year’s iteration of the Best Buddies Friendship Walk, held on Quinnipiac University’s North Haven campus.

“Everyone is just happy to be where they are, and that’s what our whole mission is. Everyone is just happy to be together,” said Valerie Sobol, senior and Quinnipiac’s Best Buddies’ chapter vice president.

Best Buddies Friendship Walks occur in 32 states, raising funds to benefit Best Buddies, the largest organization that strives to end the social, economic and physical isolation of 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Best Buddies’ programs help members of the organization create meaningful friendships with peers, secure jobs, live independently and feel valued by society.

For Connecticut’s own Best Buddies Friendship Walk, the forecast saw rain from morning to night and heavy wind gusts, forcing the walk to take place inside the parking garage for the second time in three years. It didn’t make much of a difference, as enthusiasm ran high from start to finish. It is consistently one of Quinnipiac’s best university-hosted events, as it reaches a big audience and following beyond Hamden. The walk is for inclusion, but its mission goes further.

“I think a branch off that is to represent schools in Connecticut that don’t have Best Buddies programs,” Katie Blackwood, the president of Quinnipiac’s Best Buddies chapter, said. “A lot of what we raise goes towards opening new chapters in Connecticut. That’s a very, very cool aspect because it’s almost like walking for our future friends.”

Before the walk started, families, students and various faculty members roamed the confines of the garage’s first floor to play games, enter contests and catch up with one another. It was clear to feel the warm sense of community humming throughout the crowd. Attendees shared memories from past walks, caught up about one another’s lives and generally beamed positivity.

“We’re all connected to the same thing,” Sobol said. “It doesn’t matter if you go to school in Cheshire, or North Branford, everyone is just friends. They know each other because they’re all connected from one organization.”

This year’s walk was special for another reason, as 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the non-profit’s founding. At Quinnipiac, its Best Buddies chapter has become a leading student organization, offering students the chance to be a part of something bigger than a school group. At the university’s involvement fair in early September, the group had an estimated 200-250 new students sign-up.

“I have made a ton of friends, like chapter presidents, people from other states or buddies,” Blackwood said. “These types of events are a perfect time to catch up with them. I definitely think you see continual connections, even if it’s not directly with your buddy.”

Blackwood is one of many students across the country who participate in the yearly Best Buddies Leadership Conference. Over 2,000 students and advisors attend the conference, which focuses on the growth and successes of chapters across the U.S. The walk is a yearly reminder of Best Buddies’ continual mission and a celebration of the rich community it has built.

“The Friendship Walk is by far my favorite event for the fall,” Blackwood said. “It kind of embodies everything we talk about and what Best Buddies means to me.”