Smiles and styles stole the show in the Memorial Union Strafford Room on Thursday, Nov. 15 as Best Buddies UNH held its third annual fashion show and encouraged Wildcats with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) to showcase their own sense of swagger and true self.
The event, running from 7 to 9 p.m., presented a wide selection of clothing and the latest trends courtesy of the Echo Thrift Shop, a discount clothing store that operates out of the Durham Community Church on Main Street. Colorful shirts, dresses, scarves, eyewear, masks and hats made their way down the runway as participants and their partners confidently marched, strutted, posed and danced for a crowd of non-stop cheering and applause to the beat of current and past hit songs from artists ranging from Lady Gaga to Justin Timberlake, among many others. Most groupings arrived in pairs, but that didn’t stop parties of three, four or even five or more from embracing the spotlight and enjoying the exposure. The event allowed for free entry but also welcomed and encouraged visitors to donate to the organization.
While the runway served as the feature presentation, the event offered free popcorn and an intermission show at 7:45 p.m. headlined by performances from a cappella groups Maiden Harmony and Off the Clef.
Throughout the show, Best Buddies president and junior biomedical sciences major Connor Pauplis urged the crowd to cheer on their friends and give each grouping a round of applause as a sign of encouragement and support for students with IDDs who are partnered up with student volunteers to develop one-on-one connections that create, per Pauplis, “opportunities for inclusion and friendship” for everyone involved with the organization.
“One thing I really, really love about Best Buddies is that we’re all an organization full of friendly and welcoming people,” he told the crowd at the start of the show, “and, more than anything else, we just love to have fun and, like, that’s amazing, right?”
For the event’s finale, a group of IDD students and Best Buddies volunteers performed a dance routine to the tune of “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack as other members clapped along, a routine that received hearty applause and praise from the crowd.
In their reflections on the experience, Best Buddies volunteers and members expressed similarly positive sentiments long after the final applause.
“Best Buddies has been actually asking me to be a part of it…we have been a great family,” said Sam Cousins, who has been part of Best Buddies for three years and takes part in Wildcat Friends, the local chapter of Friends In Action, a statewide organization similar to Best Buddies; she added it felt “great” walking the runway at the event.
“With Best Buddies, it really has grown with a lot of people and with other friends; we’ve been a part of a great organization,” Cousins said.
Sophomore occupational therapy major Aileen Coen and senior history major Keo Simonson served as one of the night’s notable duos, as they often appeared together as each strutted down the runway.
“…from our perspective, it was a lot of work, but definitely that work bore great fruit,” Coen, who has been a part of Best Buddies UNH since her first year, said, “so I’m happy that everyone really enjoyed it; and it seemed a really fun time, even if it was a little stressful on our side, and I was still able to enjoy it, like, throughout the process…it kind of shows the best of people when you have events like this, so it was awesome.”
“I just enjoy being part of an organization that, like, can bring together people who would never meet otherwise and just give people an opportunity to come out and have fun,” Simonson told The New Hampshire.
Pauplis, who has served as the president for nearly a year and as a part of Best Buddies UNH since his first year, expressed optimism in terms of the organization’s future and said he looks forward to “more friendships, more involvement and bigger events” down the road.
“Even though I am the president, this organization is all about everyone else and not about me,” he said. “…It’s honestly so amazing to watch their friendships grow and see all our individuals – our buddies and our students – just create amazing friendships and really grow from that as human beings.”