“Joy, genuine joy.” That’s how senior McKinley Mueller describes Wake Forest’s Best Buddies, which she co-leads.
Best Buddies is an international organization that aims to foster friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). Best Buddies is the world’s largest organization dedicated to this type of work, and the organization has a place here on campus and within the Winston-Salem community.
The mission of the Best Buddies club at Wake Forest is to foster intentional, genuine friendships between Wake Forest students who do not have IDDs with individuals, or “buddies” as they are called, living in Winston-Salem who do. The club accomplishes this by partnering with host sites throughout the city. The largest host site with whom the university partners is Carter High School, a school specifically for students with IDDs. The chapter also partners with Moji Coffee, a coffee shop that employs people with IDDs and the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem.
“What’s different about Best Buddies than other non-profits is that it’s focused on not only creating a great community but also creating integrated employment and building leadership development, and even helping people with inclusive living … it helps people with IDDs for the rest of their lives,” said senior Alexa Reilly, co-leader of Best Buddies.
The mission of creating real friendships is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is easy for everyone to feel isolated. Large group events may be on hold for now, but the joyous friendships and authentic community that Best Buddies creates is certainly not.
The Best Buddies club is feeling optimistic about this semester, even if most events will have to be on Zoom. Virtual events like trivia nights, show and tell and Pictionary parties are already being planned. The club is also planning on getting more involved with their host sites. Best Buddies is encouraging its members to attend and volunteer at various events at Moji Coffee. The coffee shop will be having a voter registration fair for people with disabilities to provide support with the voting process. All club members are encouraged to attend.
In addition to volunteer and service activities, Best Buddies will also be using this socially-distant semester to do virtual educational programming. There will be Zoom meetings on the topics of intersectionality, linguistics and a session about the importance of not using derogatory terms like the R-slur.
However, the club is not only a source of help for those with IDDs, all members benefit from their experience.
“My buddy helped me lighten up … she makes me laugh like no one else and sometimes I need that,” Reilly said.
Mueller says that it brings so much joy and peace to the students who are involved because while other clubs are joined just for resumé-building or leadership positions, Best Buddies focuses solely on building genuine friendships and having human-to-human interactions. She also says that being around a buddy teaches you so much about joy and shows you how inconsequential the things we stress about are.
When asked about the heart of the Best Buddies club, Reilly said that she loves Best Buddies because it allows her to go outside the Wake Forest bubble and meet people that she would not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. “No other club has as big of an impact on your life as this one does,” she affirms.
Best Buddies is open to anyone who wants to be a part of its mission. To get involved, simply email Mueller or Reilly, whose emails are printed on the Best Buddies posters around campus. Even though the club will look differently this semester, there are still friendships that need to be made, perhaps now more than ever.
“It’s not an option to not have Best Buddies this year. It’s not an option to give up on our friends,” Meuller said.