Students bond to end stigma against disabled people

Sam Malone

DeKALB | Junior dietetics major Ashley Miller has always felt a connection to those with intellectual disabilities, and this year she decided to help those individuals by joining NIU’s chapter of the international Best Buddies program which has more volunteers than peer buddies this year.

Best Buddies is a nonprofit program that allows volunteers to provide companionship to those with disabilities to end social stigmas associated with such disabilities.

“When I started working with the program, [the chapter] was still very small, but we were able to just meet the numbers equally with college buddies and peer buddies,” said Jeff Chan, Best Buddies faculty adviser. “Then we just kind of steadily grew. We have had a lot of interest, and so the challenge has been accommodating so many students that are interested in the program.”

College buddies are each paired with a peer buddy from the community who lives with an intellectual disability. College buddies provide community members with a friendship and connection to the world that they would not otherwise have, Chan said. Associate members plan and organize events for the buddies like the “Buddy Ball,” which Chan described as a prom.

Miller said she looks forward to organizing and being a part of events such as the Oct. 1 trip to Jonamac Orchard, 19412 Shabbona Road.

“People with disabilities have always had a special place in my heart,” Miller said. “I’ve always wanted to help in any way I can and show support and be a friend, and I hope to impact other peoples’ lives.”

The international initiative hopes to end isolation experienced by those with disabilities. NIU’s chapter promotes this initiative by participating in the “End the R-Word” campaign which raises awareness of this isolation.

Chan said he is amazed by the student dedication to the chapter that he has witnessed as the faculty adviser. He said the group this year seems excited.

“From my standpoint, it’s really the time and effort that the students put in that’s the most impressive,” Chan said. “They take time through their evenings and on their weekends to devote to the chapter, and I think that’s really admirable.”

Chan said having “too many volunteers” is never a bad thing, and they are working to pair two college buddies to one peer buddy in an attempt to accommodate everyone.

Chan said volunteers will be planning events like bowling and pizza nights to take their buddies to which will enable them to connect more.

Miller said she is excited to have the opportunity to coordinate and participate in these events.

“I think it’s important for the students here to get experience helping other people and not just themselves,” Miller said. “It’s important, and people don’t want to take the time to help. But why not start when you’re young and make an impact in someone else’s life and have them make an impact in yours, because they’re going to impact yours as well.”