Junior, Rob Oswald, sees individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) as who they are — people.
Through his involvement with Best Buddies, Oswald has created lasting friendships and memories that he says have played a significant role in his life both at home and at Wake Forest.
Best Buddies, an international non-profit organization that strives to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with IDD, is in it’s third year as an organization on campus.
How are you involved with Best Buddies?
Currently, I’m the treasurer of the Wake Forest Chapter of Best Buddies. I first learned about the organization in 2008 — my uncle has down-syndrome and my dad wanted to find a way to get involved to help. My family started volunteering with our local chapter at home as a means of supporting him and we’ve been members ever since. Our favorite event to do together is the Best Buddies Challenge; people pledge to complete a 20, 50 or 100 mile bike ride and this event occurs in cities around the country. My family has always participated in the D.C. challenge but a few years ago the event was moved away from the area. Best Buddies headquarters is in Miami and I’ve been wanting to participate in that challenge for the last few years so I’m hoping to get there this year.
What has been your favorite experience or memory within Best Buddies?
In the fall semester, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (EKS) day for sure! It kick-starts the school year and brings together all of our returning members and buddies as well as introduce us to the new class of freshmen. In the spring semester, Spread the Word to End the Word Week is without a doubt my favorite. During an entire week in late March we host events on and off campus — the car smash, cool guest speakers, and the buddy walk, just to name a few. It’s an incredible week that we wouldn’t get done without the help of our members and the support from the Wake Forest community. What continues to amaze me about this week is the number of people that come out to support the eradication of the R-word and take the pledge not to use it.
How do you feel when people use the “R Word”?
Before Best Buddies, I didn’t really think much of the word. I understood the word shouldn’t be used, but I didn’t fully grasp why until last year when I was invited to attend the Best Buddies Conference at Indiana University. While there, I heard the stories from people with mental and physical disabilities as they explained their experiences with the word. It completely enriched my understand of why the term is degrading and inappropriate. Having a disability doesn’t mean you are unintelligent or incapable. I met the most thought-provoking and inspiring people at that conference last year. You can’t help but take a stance with them. And with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people have taken the pledge to end the use of the word is encouraging.
How has your involvement in Best Buddies shaped your time as a student?
It’s been amazing to see how many students, faculty and staff are interested and willingly participate with our chapter and/or support our mission. We’ve only been chartered for two years now but have integrated a huge portion of the Winston-Salem community into the program. Our members have the option to pair themselves with a buddy from Carter High School and many of our events work to enhance those friendships. Letaevis, my buddy for almost a year now, and I talk a few times a week and try to hang out a couple of times a month. He plans to come to campus to participate in the Buddy Walk at the end of End the Word week so we’ll get another chance to hang out. Best Buddies provides opportunities for you to learn about members of the Winston Salem community, Wake Forest community and yourself, which I consider one of my most invaluable experiences.
What are your hopes for Best Buddies at Wake Forest in future years?
My goal for Best Buddies is to make it well known on campus. We are only in our third year as an organization here at Wake Forest, but have won back-to-back outstanding chapter awards from Best Buddies International. I would love that success to translate into us becoming a larger presence on campus. It feels like we are the best kept secret on campus and I think it is time we share that secret with everyone.
What is one thing you’ve learned from Best Buddies that you wish more students knew about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?
I would like everyone to know that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are just like us. Through my time in Best Buddies at Wake Forest and the years I have been involved in it with my family, I have met some of the smartest and nicest people that have IDD. If everyone knew how great these people were, there would be no need for Best Buddies, because everyone would be lining up to be their friends.