Ohio University student Maya Meade, a sophomore studying journalism, started a Best Buddies Chapter at Ohio University this past year.
Best Buddies is an international organization that helps create an inclusive and friendly environment for all. The organization promotes inclusion by providing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities opportunities to make lasting friendships. However, anyone is welcome to join Best Buddies.
“I wanted to start the chapter because I had had such a good experience with it in high school,” Meade said. “It is even more successful and easy to be in a (Best Buddies) chapter at the college level because when you're an adult you don't have to go through the parents, like in high school.”
So far, there are 22 members involved in OU’s Chapter. Due to COVID-19, all meetings have been held virtually, but plans are in the works for more events for the rest of the calendar year.
Meade, president of Best Buddies OU, said she came up with the idea to start a Best Buddies chapter from one of her classes last spring. She was assigned a project to create an initiative to co-create a more inclusive environment at OU. Meade’s involvement with Best Buddies in high school gave her the idea to create a plan to implement a chapter at OU.
“I think it's a really great opportunity to make friends and to get leadership skills,” Meade said. “It's a really great organization for anyone who's interested in service, giving back to their community and being involved with diverse communities and learning about other people. I think that's a lot of what it's about. We do a lot of education about the community of students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Meade said the chapter has talked about playing volleyball and basketball, renting out the Athena to watch movies, going bowling and ice skating, cookie decorating around the holidays and even collaborating with the local elementary and high schools in the area for events.
Nina Burchfield, a sophomore at OU studying special education and vice president of Best Buddies OU, has been involved with Best Buddies since middle school when she first heard about the group. She said she initially got involved with Best Buddies because two of her cousins have disabilities and she loves spending time with them. She also felt that it would be a great opportunity because of her interest in becoming a special education teacher.
“Best Buddies is just another way for people who might not be included regularly because of their disability to meet more people and make more friendships and kind of get the college experience,” Burchfield said.
Olivia Girardi, a sophomore at Ohio University studying early childhood education, has also been involved in Best Buddies since middle school and was president of her high school chapter.
“Everyone is accepted in Best Buddies,” Girardi said. “That is like the one thing we try to emphasize. We want to educate people on so many different things about people with disabilities in the most non targeted way, and that's what Best Buddies does. Literally anyone is welcome, everyone is here to help and support and just become friends.”
Meade, Burchfield and Girardi all met in high school while attending the Best Buddies Leadership Conference, which is a yearly event that brings Best Buddies members from all over the world together. The conference provides attendees with the opportunity to develop leadership skills and learn more about how to create an inclusive environment for everyone.
They reconnected at OU through Best Buddies and all are looking forward to growing the chapter and helping to create a more inclusive and accessible environment at OU through the organization.