The New Hampshire Best Buddy program opened in January 2014. Since then, 26 schools have established programs with 1,000 active buddies now participating, according to Best Buddy program director, Laura Edmonson. She added that the program has also spread to Vermont and Maine.
When discussing the program’s goals, Edmonson said they “intend to make inclusion the norm; essentially, we wish for the program to shut down because we can all accept others.”
This past Monday, the Memorial Union Building (MUB) Theater II hosted the university’s Best Buddies program as they gave a presentation regarding the growing program here on campus. The presentation was a moderated panel discussion consisting of three Best Buddies members and a fourth who has always been very active in the program’s presentations, who very eagerly expressed their love and admiration for the program.
According to Best Buddies’ UNH Wildcat Link, “Best Buddies UNH is an organization that creates one-to-one friendships between UNH students and individuals in the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).”
The four panel members echoed the same views as Edmondson, all vocalizing the growth of UNH’s personal chapter over the years. Sophomore Russian and Italian studies dual major, Student Senate member, publicity officer for Best Buddies UNH and panel member Kai Forcey-Rodriguez noted that, while the Buddies do their intended job of promoting equality amongst peers, they also help people become more vocal for themselves and better advocates for others.
The program intends to make sure those with disabilities are able to feel normal with their respective condition and live their lives without the pressure of finding acceptance amongst their peers, according to president of Best Buddies, Samantha Colaw.
Fellow panel members Thomas Liseno and Keith Venable agreed with Forcey-Rodriguez while adding that the Buddies program has helped them to consider the values of community and how their experiences within the program were ones they wished to reciprocate with others.
Attending the panel discussion was current UNH student body president, Jonathan Dean, as well as 2017-18 Vice President-elect Alex Burroughs. Dean said that he and his cabinet members are constantly talking about ways that the campus and its residents can become more accepting of those with IDD and others who struggle to feel accepted in the university community, which influenced his attendance at the event.
One course of action Student Senate is considering taking on is based off of accessibility for UNH students with developmental disabilities, such as keeping the side door of the MUB, located at the top of the ramp, open later in order for students with IDD to eat at times that are works best for them
As the discussion was winding down, panel members began to share their personal experiences with the program and how it helped to transform their lives. Buddy director Thomas Liseno, a young man with Down syndrome, mentioned how his handicap used to make him feel lesser than others. However, through the values of Best Buddies UNH and the idea of becoming a role model for others, he has realized he wishes to be a role model for those struggling with how he used to feel.
Liseno closed the night by saying, “We’re proud of who we are. We are all the same people and we bring out the best in each other, which is what I think is the best thing we have here.”
The Buddies will be participating in a Friendship Walk on Saturday, May 13, in Concord.
More information regarding this event can be found at www.bestbuddies.org/new-hampshire.