More than 50 Wake Forest students and members of the community joined each other in the Magnolia Room Sunday, March 25 for the fourth annual Best Buddies Friendship Walk, an event hosted by the Best Buddies chapter of Wake Forest University that celebrates inclusion of people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).
This year’s event featured games and arts and crafts as well as a “color walk” around Hearn Plaza where participants of all abilities were showered by paint powder. Special guests included Reason to Bake — a purpose-based, gluten-free cookies company based out of Transylvania County, NC — who delivered a keynote address and donated cookies for the event. Other special guests included members of the newly-created Best Buddies chapter of nearby High Point University and students from Carter High School in Winston-Salem, NC.
The event’s theme was “Dream in Color,” which inspired the addition of the “color walk” as well as the arts and crafts and games. At one booth, participants of all abilities could journal about their dreams.
Junior Kelly Reynolds, co-director of the Friendship Walk, worked with the organization to pick this year’s theme after hearing the story of Elise Sampson, founder of Reason to Bake, and her daughter Carolyn Sampson. Carolyn lives with an intellectual disability, which often makes finding employment difficult.
“Carolyn has always wanted to be a baker, but was unfortunately unable to find any work because of her disability,” Reynolds said. “She didn’t let this stop her, since she then started her own bakery with her mom and Reason to Bake has now become an international hit.”
Reason to Bake not only hires but also trains people with intellectual disabilities to pursue meaningful work. At the bakery, people of all abilities work together to make all-natural and artisanal cookies from scratch, which they then ship all over the country.
“We chose to ask Reason to Bake to be our keynote speaker because we heard about Carolyn’s story and thought that it would connect and inspire our participants to never give up and to chase their dreams. They are able to do whatever they put their minds to, just like Carolyn did,” Reynolds said. “Because of Carolyn’s story of turning her dream of being a baker into a success, we wanted to have the theme of our event be about dreams. We believe that dreams aren’t black in white, so we decided to have it be ‘Dream in Color.’”
Participants of all abilities found great inspiration in hearing Carolyn share her story in her keynote address. Senior Emma Bowden, vice president of the Best Buddies chapter of Wake Forest, reminded herself of the importance of following her dreams after hearing the address.
“It was inspiring to hear such an incredible story, especially being a senior with plans to follow my dreams of going to Physician Assistant school after graduation,” Bowden said. “Carolyn was a tangible reminder that no matter the dream, working hard and creating opportunities for yourself can lead to success.”
For some, the inspiring speech served as a fitting culmination to four years of service to the organization, years which saw Best Buddies grow from a small student organization into a fully-recognized chapter.
“Best Buddies has offered me the perfect opportunity to escape the bubble of Wake Forest and make an impact in the Winston-Salem community,” Bowden said. “Being a friend to students at Carter High School has been so rewarding, humbling and just plain fun. The buddies constantly reminded me to take life less seriously and to be thankful for the little things, reminders which I so needed throughout my journey at Wake Forest.”