Best Buddies builds lasting friendships

Community+member+Sam+Bradbury+decorates+cookies+as+part+of+the+Best+Buddy+program+to+build+friendships+between+students+and+people+with+intellectual+and+developmental+disabilities%2C+to+increase+awareness+about+issues+that+affect+them+and+to+foster+understanding+among+people.%0APhoto+courtesy+of+NMU+Best+Buddies

Community member Sam Bradbury decorates cookies as part of the Best Buddy program to build friendships between students and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to increase awareness about issues that affect them and to foster understanding among people. Photo courtesy of NMU Best Buddies

Jeff Maki

Group encourages students and people with disabilities to get to know each other

The NMU associate chapter of Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization, is giving a free cookie and sticker at a booth in Jamrich to anyone wearing mismatched socks on World Down Syndrome Day, Wednesday, March 21, to raise awareness for people with Down Syndrome.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as Down Syndrome both fall under the classification of intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). In recognition of this, NMU Best Buddies will hold a lecture and Q&A panel on autism from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 5, in Jamrich 1100. Speaking will be Carrissa Rondeau from the Autism Alliance of Michigan and Erik Bergh, head of workforce development for Goodwill of Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

NMU Best Buddies is a program where members meet with and become friends with people with IDD.

President of NMU Best Buddies Seton Trost, a junior biology major, said that wearing mismatched socks represents the uniqueness of all people with Down Syndrome.

“They are all bright and colorful in their own way,” Trost said.

The international symbol for Down Syndrome Awareness is a blue and yellow ribbon.
Understanding and accepting people with IDD is important, Trost said. The number of people living with ASD varies from year to year, but typically falls between 2 and 3 percent of the population.

“Understanding autism helps you understand the people of our community,” Trost said.
As for what Buddies members do, that depends on their new friends’ interests. They might go to the movies, color, or go for a walk, said Emma Goebel, a graphic design junior and recent member with Best Buddies.

The goal of the program is to help people with IDD secure meaningful relationships, get employment, build personal social skills and feel valued by society, according to Best Buddies International, “It’s really all about friendship,” Goebel said.

Engaging with people with IDD is daunting to some people, Goebel said.

“Getting to know [people with developmental disabilities] isn’t that scary,” Goebel said. “People get scared, not knowing how to act, but they’re just like anybody else.”

NMU is helping people with IDD by introducing them to the performing arts. One matinee performance of the upcoming “Tarzan” musical will be autism-friendly, according to Forest Roberts Theatre. The showing of “Tarzan” on Sunday, April 15 will be performed in a supportive environment for people affected by ASD or other sensitivity issues. This is part of working with the Theatre Development Fund and their Autism Theatre Initiative.
There are many programs in the Marquette area alone for the needs of IDD people.

Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency (MARESA) was one of 56 similar programs established in 1962 by Michigan state law to aid in the education of all students, according to MARESA’s website.

MARESA gives consultation and technical support for school districts as well as seminars for teachers. They also work with people affected by homelessness and those in foster care.

One of MARESA’s projects includes students making candles to sell candles at the Marquette Goodwill, which is known for providing employment for disabled people.
Goebel, who joined NMU Best Buddies with her roommate, said that she would like to see more people joining, citing her personal satisfaction.

“It’s really rewarding,” Goebel said.

Contact NMU Best Buddies by emailing Trost at [email protected]