The fourth annual Best Buddies Fashion Show found members of Best Buddies International wearing clothing from Echo Thrift Shop and strutting their stuff in the Memorial Union Building (MUB) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) last Friday. Best Buddies is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that build relationships and create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
Best Buddy Matt Tufts said that the important aspect about Best Buddies is not only creating relationships, but creating “long-term relationships.” His mother, Leslie Tufts, agreed that Best Buddies was special because there was a longevity to the relationships; Matt has been invited to a wedding of his former Buddy for four years, she told The New Hampshire.
Sophomore business administration major Matt Wilson said he became part of Best Buddies last year after doing it for one year when he was in high school. Matt Tufts is his current buddy, and together they’ve earned the moniker “Matt Squared.” Wilson said that they hang out once a week and usually play pool or foosball in the MUB. He said his favorite part of walking in the fashion show was “seeing everyone’s reaction to it.”
Co-president of Best Buddies at UNH, senior biomedical science major Connor Pauplis, said that people with disabilities are too often pushed aside and marginalized in everyday life, but the fashion show shows them that “they are loved, and the center of attention.” He said that whoever wants to walk in the fashion show can, which is why they also offer the audience the choice to join the buddies and walk alongside them if they want. Pauplis found Best Buddies during his first year at UNH at University Day and is thankful he did. Pauplis was the announcer for the fashion show.
“My goal personally is to make sure all your vocal cords are completely worn out by the end of the show,” Pauplis said.
Pauplis encouraged lots of cheering and clapping throughout the show and also thanked the Echo Thrift Shop for lending their clothes to Best Buddies for the fashion show. “If it weren’t for their clothes that they allow us to have, the show wouldn’t be possible,” he said.
James Ouellette, who has been a Best Buddy for 10 years, said his favorite part of taking part in the fashion show was “walking with everyone and the hat.” Junior accounting and women’s studies major Erin Gralton, the treasurer for Best Buddies, said that she has been a part of Best Buddies since her first year at UNH and said, “We have so much fun.”
Keith Venable, who works at Philbrook Dining Hall, said that he used to be one of the buddies and currently is a buddy ambassador that promotes the Best Buddies International website online. He said that Best Buddies is important because it cultivates a place of inclusion.
Venable said that he had a really impactful relationship in one of his past Best Buddies relationships, and that she pushed him outside of his comfort zone to interact with other people more despite his normally reserved nature. He joked that she gave him what he called, “love pushes,” and in the end, changed his whole life. Venable said his favorite part of the fashion show was being able to take the pictures for it.
In the middle of the show, UNH’s a capella group, Off the Clef, performed during an intermission along with Improv Anonymous. Best Buddies also staged their own entertainment act in the intermission, bringing up two random people from the crowd with Pauplis to each get a makeover done by blindfolded buddies.
At one point the buddies walked onto the fashion show stage wearing bright, summery clothes and Pauplis asked the crowd, “Did you guys bring your sunscreen? I know I sure did.”
Pauplis also announced that they were hosting a bit of a celebrity guest, and when a group walked out in cheetah outfits, Pauplis said, “Can you believe the Cheetah Girls are here?”
Pauplis enjoyed entertaining the crowd, but aimed to do so with a purpose. His favorite part of the event was “making the buddies happy and making them feel appreciated.”