The University of Maine chapter of the Best Buddies organization — a program whose goal it is to formulate meaningful friendships between college students and intellectually and developmentally disabled people from the local community — hosted an event in the Memorial Union’s Bangor Room to reveal new member pairings for the spring semester. It is a new organization at UMaine and the first of its kind in the state.
The organizers gave all of the participants animal masks and asked them to search for the person wearing the matching mask in the room. The event is the first in a series of group team-building activities and bonding opportunities that the program will organize throughout the semester.
“We want to get the school really involved, and we want to get our buddies on campus as much as possible,” said UMaine student and vice president of the Best Buddies chapter Whitney Norton.
The one-on-one friendships are cultivated through weekly communication between participants and monthly outings.
“We pair people in the community into friendships with people at the college level who have similar interests,” said UMaine student and president of the Best Buddies chapter Chelsea O’Meara. “For example, we have a pair that like hunting and hiking and outdoors activities, and they go out and do everything together.”
The UMaine chapter also organizes several monthly events that encourage socialization and bonding between the pairs. The chapter currently has over 50 people participating in the program and 15 friendship matches.
O’Meara founded the UMaine Best Buddies organization, which is the most recent state in the country to open a chapter of the program. Her personal friendships with intellectually and developmentally disabled people and her involvement with a similar program in Connecticut, her home state, inspired the formation of the chapter at UMaine.
“When I moved to public school, my first and only friend actually had Down syndrome, and I was the new girl and I didn’t have any friends,” O’Meara said. “From that point on, I really saw someone for their abilities not their disabilities.”
The program is growing quickly on campus and members come from a range of backgrounds.
“We have members that are in fraternities, sororities, football players, baseball players, forestry majors on the Woodsmen’s Team, a wide variety of majors and interests,” O’Meara said. “It’s very diverse.”
Best Buddies is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver and is one of a number of related organizations that positively affects thousands of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities around the world.
The goal of the organization is to formulate lifelong friendships and to help members secure rewarding jobs, live independently and become active members of the community.
The UMaine Best Buddies program will host a number of member events throughout the spring semester. The events range from a formal Valentine’s Day dance and group outings to a movie night and a farewell prom at the end of the semester.
If you are interested in becoming a member of Best Buddies or would like more information about the program, contact Chelsea O’Meara on FirstClass, or visit the Best Buddies website at BestBuddies.org.