||Centre students to become Best Buddies with the local community
RELEASED: October 8, 2009
By Leigh Ivey
DANVILLE, KY—The volunteer spirit remains alive and well at Centre College.
For many months, several students have devoted their time and attention to founding a Best Buddies group on campus. Last week, the group became an official campus organization, and its members couldn't be more delighted.
Best Buddies was founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Eunice Kennedy Shriver's son. An international non-profit organization, its mission is to establish one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
"Our goal is to foster friendships," says Ben Cocanougher '11, Centre's buddy director. "We believe this will allow our buddies to become more comfortable in social environments, allowing them to attain jobs, and eventually leading to inclusion and acceptance by society."
To form these invaluable friendships, Centre students will be matched with a member of the local community (who is 18 or older) with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Centre "Buddies" will be in touch with their new friends at least once a week, either by phone call or e-mail. At least twice a month, they will visit with their buddies in person.
Though he has long been devoted to starting a Best Buddies group on campus, Cocanougher's desire for success grew after talking to the director of a community organization that provides group housing for people with intellectual disabilities.
"She gave me a quote from one of her clients—now one of my friends—that solidifies my commitment to Best Buddies," Cocanougher says.
"One day while he was eating lunch, the young man told her, 'Everyone that I'm with all day is paid to be with me. I just wish I had someone who wanted to hang out with me because they're my friend.' This was before either of them had even heard of the Best Buddies program, and this is exactly what we intend to supply!"
Patrick Noltemeyer, Centre College associate dean and director of community service and Bonner program, says even he was surprised by the high level of interest that Centre students have shown in Best Buddies.
"I didn't expect the level of excitement that I got," he says. "I don't know why I didn't expect it, but I didn't. It's really impressive how quickly everything came together."
Cocanougher agrees. "I was amazed at how well the campus responded to this program," he says. "Since this is the first year of the program for both Centre College and the state of Kentucky, I was afraid there might be some reservations, but everyone I’ve talked to has been very excited and supportive of our cause."
Last spring, after the vice president of Best Buddies came to campus to speak with him about the program, Noltemeyer sent out a single e-mail to the Centre students to gauge their interest.
"In about two hours," he says, "I had seven students writing back telling me how much they wanted to be involved."
One of these students was Hannah Brooks '11. Because her sister has special needs, she has long been devoted to forming friendships with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
"My experiences with people with special needs have given me a ton of excitement and drive to make Best Buddies at Centre as wonderful as it can be," she says. "I think all of us in Best Buddies know how much joy we get out of our friendships, and we want to share this joy with others, especially those who may have a hard time finding friendship."
Kacie Bowles '10 says she was eager to get involved with Best Buddies in order to "help those in our community who are rarely given much attention or concern. People think that they don't know how to deal with individuals with disabilities, yet if we open our minds a little and are willing to give our time and love to them, it isn't hard in the least. These people are just like we are in so many ways and simply want someone to have normal, everyday experiences with."
The local community is as excited about the program as the Centre students.
"We've met with the Special Persons Advocacy Network (SPAN), Family Ties, and A Brighter Choice, and they are all excited about partnering with us," Cocanougher says. "We'll be making the matches in mid-October, and the pairs will meet at our Match Party/Halloween dance on October 22 in the Warehouse. After the buddies meet, we'll be hosting a Halloween dance with SPAN (Special Persons Advocacy Network), and the entire community is invited to attend."
Not every Centre student involved has spent a great deal of time with people with special needs, but Noltemeyer, who is currently the organization's on-campus advisor, has offered them advice he received at a recent Best Buddies conference in California.
At the conference—where Noltemeyer's brother, Daniel (who was born with the chromosomal disorder Down syndrome), was the keynote speaker—Maria Shriver repeatedly mentioned that "the best thing a person can do for anyone is make them feel like they are exactly who they need to be."
Noltemeyer adds that "the most important thing about forming friendships with those with special needs is to support them for who they are, focusing on the ability rather than the disability."
The members of Best Buddies plan to do just this, and as their organization gets underway, all are excited about the new friendships they will soon be forming.
"I'm looking forward to witnessing the long-term effect that Best Buddies will have, not only for people with special needs but also for the students here at Centre taking part in these friendships," Brooks says.
Sara Small '12 is another student eager for the friendships to begin. "This is a program that has the potential to change many lives," she says.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
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