Roughly 800,000 people worldwide are engaging in a program designed to build friendships in a neurologically diverse climate, and here at Eastern Michigan University, that program is thriving.
“The organization basically gives students a one-on-one match-up with a buddy who has an intellectual disability and you make a friendship,” Lauren Golubski, EMU’s Best Buddies activities coordinator said. “There’s nothing more, nothing less.”
On Friday, Best Buddies kicked off another year at EMU with a turnout of 68 people. The program began with small talk, nametags and “speed-friendshipping,” as the buddies of EMU like to call it.
Speed-friendshipping is a process where college buddies and the other buddies form two gigantic circles with chairs and tables. The college buddies form the outer ring, facing the other buddies on the ring inside. They engage in conversation with the person directly facing them, and every few minutes, the college buddies shift to the left and begin chatting with the next buddy facing them. The process continues until every buddy had spoken with everyone in the circle opposite to his or her own.
After speed-friendshipping, buddies fill out an event feedback form to give coordinators basic demographic information, their thoughts on the program, and the buddy they would like to be matched up with. After buddies are paired up, they will meet together on a regular basis.
Tim Peake, EMU freshman and best buddy, said this program isn’t a mentorship; it’s more so filled with companions or friends.
“It’s a mutual relationship where we try to understand each other,” he said. “The buddies may have disabilities but that does not mean that they are less of people, have less emotions or are even less intelligent than we are. That’s a very bad misconception that we’re trying to overcome.”
Aside from breaking barriers and making friends, many buddies feel that the program has given them applicable life and social skills.
Golubski said Best Buddies taught her how to speak with anyone and to always have confidence.
“It’s awkward sometimes, but even when talking to people who don’t have disabilities you’re always going to have some awkwardness,” she said. “You have to embrace it and you learn so much from people, beyond their disabilities, beyond what other people think. It’s the coolest experience ever.”
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