Once a month, Best Buddies, hosts an event where Emory students and their “buddies” from the Atlanta community come together and bond over activities. For many students, the club provides a stress-free environment in which they get to spend time with people they truly care about, and the ability to broaden their world-view and experience with the disabled in order to become more tolerant, understanding individuals.

Sophomore Jakob Perryman describes Best Buddies as an organization that “helps to form close one-on-one friendships between Emory students and people in the Atlanta community with developmental and intellectual disabilities.”

According to College freshman Blair Ely, the purpose of Best Buddies is to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Students have Best Buddies meetings every couple of weeks, and one event per month. These monthly events take place on a designated Sunday from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.

According to Ely, on event days, students and their buddies participate in activities, such as sports, karaoke, or dances. Students and Buddies are matched up, and then get to know each other better by spending time together and participating in these planned activities. According to the program’s Vice-President and College sophomore Mack Schroeder, these monthly events foster “peer friendships” between Emory students and buddy participants.

“Best Buddies commitment is really what you make it. Depending on whether you have a buddy assigned, you could do as much as weekly calls, play dates, and group activities or as little as monthly Best Buddies activities with the whole Emory group. It’s really fun and so easy,” Ely said.

Although students join Best Buddies for many different reasons, their decision to participate in the organization overlaps in the interest of the promotion of inclusion and formation of meaningful connections with members of the community with disabilities.

Perryman decided to join Best Buddies in order to broaden his worldview and to take part in a meaningful activity outside of school. [quote_box name=””]I had never had much experience with kids with disabilities and wanted to learn more about them and myself. I wanted to join a club that would mean something to me and would expand my views.[/quote_box]

Ely has been involved with Best Buddies for several years now. She took part in establishing the organization as a club at her high school. “I originally found out about it when working with a Nashville based non-profit, Friends for Life, that serves as a sort of grown-up school and day care for friends with disabilities teaching,” she explained.

“I was so excited to find out Emory had a Best Buddies and does a really great job, too,” Ely said. “It just makes me happy.”

Additionally, Ely’s uncle has Down’s Syndrome, so she wanted to reach out to others impacted by IDD’s by spending time with disabled people in Atlanta.

Ely is very enthusiastic about her experience with Best Buddies so far. She loves the inclusive aspect of the organization, and how it allows students and members of the community to value each other for their own individuality.

“I love the simplicity of best buddies in that it is simply about having fun together and valuing each other for who we are. The Buddies are all so different and so fantastic and embracing that fact of humanity regardless of circumstances and just being together, learning from each other, and loving each other is really amazing,” Ely said.

According to Ely, one of the best parts of Best Buddies is that it helps members to realize people with disabilities are not so different from those without. All people undergo struggles and experience the same emotions, she said.

“It is really meaningful to make connections with the buddies and realize that there really isn’t much separating you, and that even though our lives look really different, we have a lot of the same struggles and at the same time share a lot of the same interests,” Ely said.

She also appreciates that Best Buddies allows her to spend time with people who are “completely and unapologetically themselves” because they are not constricted by the social norms that she feels most people are subjected to due to their intellectual or developmental disabilities.

[quote_box name=””]You remember that just a small compliment or phone call really can make people squeal with excitement even if they don’t show it out loud like the buddies often do.[/quote_box]

Ely and Perryman truly enjoy attending the monthly activities, and spending time with their buddies. They find the events very meaningful because there are times when they can let themselves go, and spend time with people they care about.

“The most meaningful part for me is the joy that comes from working with the buddies. They are always so happy to see people and hang out with them,” Perryman said. “The interactions I have had with my buddy Justin remind me not to stress about everything. Sometimes in life you need to lose in Jenga, or sing along to “Lean on Me” and just not take everything so seriously,” he added.

Perryman’s best memory with Best Buddies was when he went to an Atlanta Braves game with the club. According to Perryman, 10 Emory students and five of their buddies went to the icebreaker event. Even though the Braves lost, Perryman said he and his buddy had a great time. While the two ate hot dogs, they turned to one another and observed the condiments covering their faces, breaking into laughter at the sight of their messes.

“Being able to laugh along with a person with a disability and bond over the silliness that ensued really proved to me that they really aren’t different from myself,” Perryman said.

Jessica Hirst, the president of Best Buddies at Emory, most enjoys the wonderful relationship she has with her buddy. She and her buddy have been friends now for eight years.

“The friendships formed in this club are genuine and life long. I have maintained my friendship with my best buddy from my freshman year of high school to this very day. She has taught me how to live life positively and face adversity with gusto.”

Schroeder’s best memory of Best Buddies is the Best Buddies Ball. Every year, Emory hosts this event. Students and their buddies come to a venue, and spend the night dancing and singing. “You can really feel the joy and positivity in the room,” he said.

Schroeder, Hirst, Perryman, and Ely all recommend their experience with Best Buddies to Emory students for its facilitation of real connections with people with IDD’s and inclusiveness.

[quote_regular name=”” icon_quote=”no”]”It is an incredibly meaningful experience that has the potential to change your life,” [/quote_regular]Hirst said.