Best Buddies Penn State Helps Foster Personal Friendships Through Loving Local Community
Laney Weed found her calling in high school and acted on it as quickly as she could.
After noticing a lack of opportunities for students with special needs in her classes, Weed took her counselor’s guidance and brought Best Buddies to Pennsbury High School.
Although she started small, the impact became larger than she ever anticipated. Soon after bringing Best Buddies to her district, she continued her education at Penn State and saw that the organization already made a home in University Park.
Best Buddies is an international organization founded in 1989. Its mission is to foster one-on-one relationships with individuals, both with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Penn State’s Best Buddies is unique compared to my high school’s [program],” Weed said. “You not only work with students from the university but people who have graduated and are residents of State College.”
Overall, Best Buddies has 2,938 chapters and 95,887 participants. The chapters are spread throughout all 50 states and 47 countries in middle school, high school, and university communities.
The Penn State chapter of Best Buddies focuses on incorporating relationships outside of its general body meetings, like heading to a coffee shop each week or grabbing a meal together. Some disabled adult participants, called “Buddies,” are from Strawberry Fields, which “provides quality community-based and residential services to adults with disabilities,” while others are students of the university or residents of State College.
“We have over 400 [general university students] in our organization,” Weed said. “Around 25 of them are Peer Buddies. Having students exposed to our buddies shows that there are so many individuals with disabilities who are overlooked and could use a friend.”
Peer Buddies are university students interviewed to be paired with a student with intellectual and developmental disabilities and are matched based on likes and common interests. Many Peer Buddies are usually involved with Harmony, LifeLink, Special Olympics, Strawberry Fields, and more organizations.
Penn State Best Buddies is also paired with Pi Kappa Phi, which holds events throughout the school year for the buddies. Each general body meeting is also themed, consisting of karaoke and fashion shows, for example, to keep the buddies engaged and excited to gather in large groups.
“I’ve learned that every student and individual with special needs require different needs,” Weed said. “And, I think the people that make the most impact in our organization can mold to different learning styles.”
“Being able to adapt to different forms of communication and interests is really important, and getting to know the Buddies on a personal level,” she continued. “It matters.”
For Best Buddies Penn State, two highly anticipated, new events are near, which were both created with careful thought.
Kayla Moninger has three siblings who have disabilities, so joining Best Buddies Penn State was an immediate choice.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Moninger is familiar with the city’s annual Polar Plunge, where participants donate funds to Special Olympics while jumping into one of the region’s three large rivers. Her biggest dream was to create Penn State’s first-ever Polar Plunge.
On March 25, the Penn State Polar Plunge Festival will finally take place on the HUB Lawn from 12 to 3 p.m. There will be water balloons donated by the Special Olympics, which will also supply squirt guns, cornhole, ice cream, and popsicles. This event will raise money for Special Olympics and is open to all students.
“We’re actually the first university to do this, so I think it’ll be really exciting,” Moninger said.
Additionally, the organization will put on a Friendship Walk from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 28. All Peer Buddies and their partners will gather on the HUB Lawn and walk together in celebration of Best Buddies’ mission. This is also a free event with an opportunity to donate to the organization.
State College High School’s Best Buddies program will also join the walk and other events taking place.
“It’s not only an amazing experience helping the buddies, but they also help us learn new things from them,” walk organizer Megan Cimochowski said. “We want to spread awareness to the community that we are a club and we are here to help.”
Best Buddies’ goal is to make this walk memorable and a fun event for every “buddy” in attendance.
“We want to make these events a long-lasting tradition,” Moninger said.
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