Best Buddies, an international non-profit organization, is focused on creating interpersonal, one-to-one relationships through the pairing of college students with individuals who are intellectually- or physically-challenged. There are over 425 college chapters in 51 countries worldwide.
Kayla Williams, a Mount Carmel native and Volunteer High School graduate, is in her third year of involvement with the program. Now in her second year paired with buddy, Don, Kayla said the C-N Best Buddy chapter is comprised of 35 members at present and 18 of those are buddy-student friendship pairs. “In the fall we're hoping to have more,” she added.
Members of Best Buddies exist on two different levels. There are students who are paired with a special needs person or “buddy” to engage in weekly activities. Activities may include: going out to eat (Williams and Don like to frequent Pizza Hut), going bowling or even having a simple telephone conversation. Associate members are those that attend events and functions of the association but, due to their school or workload, don't have the time to dedicate to a one-to-one relationship at least once a week; these members may progress to “looking for a friendship match” whenever they're able.
Buddies are referred by their parents or guardians, and many live in a group home five minutes from the C-N campus.
Contest-wise, the quality of friendship pair matches was designated and factored into the cumulative score of each Best Buddy chapter as students sent in a monthly report of the contact shared with their buddies. Carson-Newman competed against five other Tennessee college chapters to attain the honor of chapter of the year: Belmont University, Lipscomb University, Middle Tennessee State University, Trevecca Nazarene University and Vanderbilt University.
Williams credited current president, Brandie Gilliam, a Dobyns-Bennett High School graduate, with having “spearheaded” the award opportunity through her keen organizational skills and timely preparation of the paperwork required by the Nashville, Tenn., competition headquarters.
“She's been a tremendous help to Best Buddies,” Williams said. Brandie will go on to promote the C-N chapter at the Annual Best Buddies Leadership Conference on July 19 at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. There, the Overall Outstanding Chapter of the Year in the Best Buddies International competition will be announced.
As for the friendships founded through the pairings, Williams said they're true because “we want to be friends with them. They [the buddies] don't look at you or judge you in any way. They love you unconditionally.”
Best Buddies of C-N hosts projects like Operation Christmas Child and events like Buddy Idol, a spring talent show where buddies demonstrate their love of song and dance to the entire student body, exhibiting their inspiring ability to “live life to the fullest.” Williams recalled attending the event her freshman year and thinking it was “an amazing opportunity.” It's part of the reason she joined the effort.
Through the volunteer program, buddies discover the bond of friendship as they may never have before; while students get to experience life through the spirited, carefree perspective of their new-found friends.
No matter the homework deadlines or stress of school the students are under, “they just brighten up your day,” Williams said. They've taught me “to be thankful for what you have... and what you don't have too. It makes you who you are.”
For more information on the C-N chapter of Best Buddies or how to get involved, contact Kayla Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 423-863-2911.