Best Buddies creates community of inclusion

Events and meetings are one in the same for the Best Buddies organization because they are always doing fun activities and hanging out. After a brief 10-15 minutes of announcements and discussion among the group, smiles and laughter are always shared, especially when they participate in events such as the Friendship Showcase, which brought performances from groups like Minor Detail and Khan Queso. This event gave buddies the chance to walk on stage and show off their talents to the Kirksville and Truman communities.

Best Buddies has been a part of Truman State University for five years, stemming from an even larger international organization founded in 1989, which focuses on forming long-lasting friendships with individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Each member of Best Buddies has the chance to partner with a buddy in a one-on-one friendship where they can always keep in contact with one another.

Amber Ferguson and her buddy Ashley Stribbling are one example of the close-knit friendships Best Buddies fosters. Ferguson said her favorite part of Best Buddies is her friendship with Stribbling because she quickly became one of her closest friends. The pair  were matched a year ago and have been close ever since.

“A lot of the time, you picture this type of friendship [as] me giving her something, but that’s just not true,” Ferguson said. “She gives me so much. She’s always looking to make sure I’m laughing and notices when I get upset at practice. She’s always checking in with me. Our friendship just makes me so happy.”

Stribbling said she joined Best Buddies because a friend invited her to one of the events and she fell in love. The inclusivity of the group made every member feel like family. Their impact on one another has been tremendous, and the lessons learned have been numerous. Best Buddies gave the perfect opportunity for the two to meet and form a strong relationship.

“I would like to give a shout-out to my buddy Amber,” Stribbling said. “I never thought I would be such an impact on someone, but to see her not to be embarrassed to show pictures of me to her friends or for me to meet her friends means the world to me.”

Ferguson joined two years ago because she was interested, and stayed because she fell in love with the organization and its members who were so easy to get along with. It feels like a happy family because everytime they get together, all they share is jokes and laughter. President Allison Kester agreed and said finding such genuine people in college can be difficult.

Learning how to make friendships is important, and Best Buddies gives its members the opportunity to look past the surface of others and realize what is truly important. Kester said meetings never feel like work because it always feels like a group of friends coming together, learning to speak with one another and bonding over core interests. Kester’s buddy Casey Francis said her favorite part about Best Buddies is meeting new friends and hanging out with everyone.

The club was rough in its beginning years when Kester was just a member. The organization lacked members and structure before it really began to make connections with the community. Currently, Best Buddies doesn’t have a ton of members, but it is still a tightly knit group of individuals. Kester said it was exciting to watch the club take off and see new members interact with one another.

“Never for a moment have I regretted joining this organization,” Kester said. “It’s been the most fun part of my college career both as an undergrad and now in grad school, and I just cannot attest to that enough. I think everyone should join Best Buddies because it’s got to genuinely be the best experience here.”

The organization isn’t just a club to learn how to cultivate friendships and learn from one another. It’s also an opportunity to grow professionally. Kester said learning to speak and understand one another is integral to everyday life. Kester plans on becoming a secondary education english teacher in the future, so the organization is perfect for her, but it has the potential to help anyone.

The club is also a perfect place to bring a smile to a sad face. Best Buddies member Samantha Smith said whenever she has a bad day or even a bad week, she always has meetings and events to look forward to.

Smith said Best Buddies taught her how to go with the flow and not have a strict path when it comes to life. It helped her learn to make a schedule with others in mind and enjoy what’s happening in front of her rather than stress over things she can’t control.

“Best Buddies kind of makes you step out of your comfort zone, so things you wouldn’t usually volunteer to do or things that you might feel a little apprehensive about doing, just, I wouldn’t say that it feels like you’re being forced into doing it, but it makes you want to try new things ” Smith said. “Which is really cool because a lot of clubs just kind of tell you, ‘Hey, you’re doing this now,’ even if I don’t really want to do that, but Best Buddies gives you the opportunity to do it instead of force you, and it’s like, ‘Okay, I can do that — it sounds like fun!’”