During his sophomore year of high school, Benjamin Mulberry met a girl named Brittany. She had Down syndrome and terminal leukemia. Brittany’s dream was to become homecoming queen. Mulberry’s class granted her wish.
“That girl completely changed my life,” Mulberry, a freshman majoring in computer science and health informatics and vice president of organization and inclusion of Best Buddies, said.
Mulberry was inspired to peer tutor in a special needs class for two hours a day in high school.
“That’s where I met my current buddy and best friend, Clay Kassidy,” Mulberry said. “Together, they both have created this passion in me and after coming to NKU, I wanted to find a way to share it. Getting to spend time with friends that do have disabilities, it gives me an opportunity to spread my passion to other people and I love that.”
According to Best Buddies International, this nonprofit organization is dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Best Buddies has grown from one chapter to almost 1,900 middle school, high school and college chapters worldwide, including all 50 states in the U.S. and over 50 countries.
“An average person has a social network of 121 people throughout their lifetime. A person with disabilities has three,” Bethany Ellen, Vice President of Best Buddies and junior majoring in Public Relations, said.
After meeting her best friend, Shannon, her freshmen year, Ellen has committed to promoting awareness for special needs people through NKU’s chapter of Best Buddies.
“It’s been really interesting because when Shannon and I first met, she didn’t really want to talk to me,” Ellen said. “She wasn’t rude, she just didn’t care. During our first outing together I was thinking, this is not going to work. She doesn’t like me. She doesn’t want me to be her friend. Then she started texting me, and that’s something we still do. It’s kind of like our thing that we do.”
Now, they share traditions of getting ice cream at Cold Stone’s, singing Frozen and late nights at McDonalds.
“It’s just those little things that show you don’t have to do these grand gestures to make a friendship with someone,” Ellen said. “It’s just these little moments, like any other friendship.”
Peer buddies get paired with someone who has a disability, it’s a monitored one-to-one friendship. They have to hang out with their buddy twice a month and contact their buddy once a week.
Associate members don’t have buddies but are still heavily involved in the chapter. They lead operational factors, set up of special events and group trips.
Best Buddies is hosting a Fall Fashion Show event, where buddies will get to strut their stuff and showcase their sponsor’s organization, on Nov. 17.
The fundraising event is coffee themed, where an organization can sponsor a buddy for $20 or pay $30 to support a buddy and their partner.
When the organization sponsors a buddy, they decide what attire the model will be wearing to represent their business.
Jenn Lipps, senior communications and public relations major is part of Alpha Phi Omega, which is their second time sponsoring a buddy.
“When it comes to the topic of special needs, people get very uncomfortable and don’t interact well,” Lipps said. “It’s a fun way to show members there is nothing to be afraid of and it’s a normal situation that doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. They are just people, too.”
Ryan Gray, a freshman majoring in CIT and an associate member of Best Buddies loves people with disabilities because they are more accepting.
“The buddies always bring a smile to my face,” Gray said. “Just to see them out there having fun, not really caring what others are thinking of them, is amazing. There’s so much we can learn from them.” Mulberry encourages sponsors to buy a buddy and their partner because the audience will get to see more of the buddies personality.
“When I go up on stage with Clay, he’ll dance around, be goofy and just have more fun,” Mulberry said. “A lot of times we don’t have the opportunity to show all of them how important they are to us and in that little moment that they get to walk on stage they get to see how truly important they are.”