By KATE PIERCE
Over 500 students from local middle schools, high schools, and colleges filled the ballroom of the Troy Hilton for the Best Buddies Friendship Ball on Friday, Feb. 2. In the crowd were students and members from the Saint Rose chapter of the organization.
“It’s one of the biggest events of the year and the aim is to promote inclusion,” said Amanda Schafer, the president of the Saint Rose chapter.
Best Buddies is an international organization and that facilitates friendships among students with intellectual and developmental disabilities become friends and their peers.
“I get to express myself in Best Buddies,” said Cory Wayman, who has been a buddy in the Saint Rose chapter for several years.
Students are paired up with members of the campus community that includes people with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities.
“It’s all about community, and you get to spend time with some of the best of friends,” said Mariah Pasinski, a member of the club. “Best Buddies is a place where everyone is accepted and celebrated.”
The ball was an opportunity for buddy pairs to join in with other chapters from around the capital region for a night of dancing and fun.
“I love dancing to the music and having a good time,” said Wayman
Some students who are members of Best Buddies have never gone to a school dance, so the annual ball is a chance to dress up nice and spend time with friends, meet new people, and enjoy music and dancing.
“It’s great to see everyone having a great time,” said Cabana. “It’s really special.”
At Saint Rose, there are many parties throughout the semester to bring buddies and peer buddies all together to play games, eat food, and have fun with each other. Typically the parties have themes, like a superhero party where everyone dresses up, or holiday themed events.
Outside of the parties, buddy pairs meet up at least twice a month to hang out.
“We go to get chinese food together,” said Kristen Cabana, a peer buddy.
The activities are up to each person in the pair, and it can take place on or off campus doing whatever it is they would like to do together.
“I go to the gym with my buddy,” said Elizabeth Tornatore, a freshman and peer buddy.
The next event to bring together the best buddies chapters of the capital region will take place in April. The annual Friendship The walk plays a huge role in funding the programs dedicated to friendships, leadership and integrated job opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities (IDD).
“We participate the friendship walk to help make it a possibility for other chapters like ours to be started,” said Schafer. “All of the money that we fundraise goes to creating new chapters of Best Buddies.”
Each walk provides an opportunity to see the organization grow as a whole.
“It gives people jobs, it gives people friendships, and it will give people with IDD an opportunity to do things that they would not have been able to do before without Best Buddies,” said Schafer.
The Saint Rose Chapter is hosting a few fundraisers in preparation for the event. They are hosting a Five Guys and TCBY Frozen Yogurt fundraiser from 4 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the joint restaurant at 512 Western Ave, across from Stuyvesant Plaza. To participate, all you need to do is bring a flyer from Best Buddies, and part of the proceeds from your regular priced food purchase will go to the Saint Rose friendship walk fund.
“Get yourself some dinner, then go next door for dessert,” said Schafer.
The friendship walk in Albany has hosted thousands of people in the past few years. This includes members from Best Buddies chapters at the college, high school, and middle school level from around the state. Over 60 members of the Saint Rose chapter, including associate members and buddy-pairs, will participate in the walk on April 22 at Crossgates Mall.
“If you want to change your perspective on life – join Best Buddies,” said Tornatore.