Best Buddies looks to generate inclusion of people with disabilities

Hunter Huffman and Hunter Huffman

“I just have a big heart for those with disabilities because they have to go through so much, and I just want them to be treated the same as I would. They should have the same opportunities as everyone,” sophomore Taylor Henault said.

She is the current president of Best Buddies BG, one branch of a nearly 2,900-group international organization that pairs its members with intellectually or developmentally disabled (IDD) people in their communities. 

This, Henault said, is in an effort for those with IDD to establish a one-on-one bond with BGSU students.

“We hang out and build friendships because a lot of individuals with (IDD) don’t make a lot of friends, which is really sad,” she said. 

This susceptibility to social isolation, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, increases the risk of depression for those living with IDD. This factor may also lead to difficulty finding future employment; a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Labor shows the unemployment rate for those with a disability is more than twice of individuals without a disability.

Since its foundation in 2017 by recent graduate and former president Jenni Allen, the group’s goal has been to diminish these outcomes by creating a positive and inclusive social environment. The buddies participate in various events together, like cheering on BGSU sports, painting and crafting, monthly meet-ups and an end-of-the-year awards ceremony.

“Each of our buddies get a little award, like ‘best dancer,’ and other little things to make them feel better,” Henault said.

This semester, the group plans to hit the road for one of Best Buddies’ 54 annual “Friendship Walks.” Set for Oct. 12 at Columbus’s Center of Science and Industry, the event will bring various chapters of the organization together for a celebration “to support inclusion and to get people to understand and be more familiar with (IDD),” Henault said.

Prior to the walk, the organizations form fundraising teams as part of the Best Buddies’ “Mission Movers,” which attempt to raise the most funds toward its local programs – so far, the BGSU chapter has raised over $280 dollars. In addition, the group held its own fundraiser with Chipotle last year, where during a four-hour period, it raised $193 of proceeds.

“I’m really happy with it considering this organization has only been here for a year and a half. I’m very happy with what we have so far,” Henault said.

With a new executive staff, the group is still organizing this semester’s schedule, but Henault hopes to bring back the fundraising event a second time around.

“We’re still working those kinks out because it’s the beginning of the school year, but I know we’re definitely going to do a Chipotle fundraiser and other things,” she said.

Best Buddies BG is starting the semester with about 80 members, but through advertising on social media, it has seen an increase in student interest, Henault said. Her goal is to double the number by the end of the school year.

Henault said a frequent concern of those interested in the group is the time commitment.

“People always say they don’t have the (time) for it, but all we ask is that individuals hang out with their buddy at least twice a month, and one of those times can be at our monthly group event,” she said.

For students interested in joining, the group is holding two upcoming meetings in the Business Administration building:

  • Sept. 10 – Room 114, 7 p.m.

  • Sept. 11 – Room 115, 9 p.m.

Students are also encouraged to reach out to Henault ([email protected]) and Best Buddies BG on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The group’s “Mixer” events, which allow members to become familiar with one another, will be announced on these platforms.