A step in the right direction


Photo by Amy Hahn

Blugold Angie Hershey and community buddy Michelle Pederson show off their Super Buddies sign at the first annual Friendship Walk.

UW-Eau Claire students and community members joined together on the Putnam Trail Saturday for the UW-Eau Claire Best Buddies first annual Friendship Walk.

Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for one-on-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Eau Claire chapter focuses mainly on creating friendships between college members and community buddies. Best Buddies movement is simple: to create a world where their services are no longer needed.

Co-Director of Best Buddies, Rylie Brandt, said the walk serves multiple purposes.

“The walk is supposed to bring support to Best Buddies,” Brandt said. “It is designed to raise awareness of their mission as well as donations.”

The walkers and volunteers raised $5,932, surpassing their $5,000 goal. Brandt hopes the money will be used to start more Best Buddies chapters throughout the nation.

“We were lucky to have so much support from the community,” Brandt said.

About 150 people participated in the walk. Community buddy Matt Anderson said he appreciates what the walk does for the community.

“This organization is good,” Anderson said. “I get a chance to communicate with my friends.”

Anderson’s mother, Shu Cheng, has noticed the positive impact the organization has had on her son since he joined seven years ago.

“He always looks forward to the events,” Cheng said. “He is very happy before and after the events. They are excellent outlets. they set to see not only their buddies, but their friends too.”

Best Buddies offers several programs to encourage inclusion starting in middle schools and continuing through college. Cheng knows the importance of organizations like Best Buddies.

“People in special (ed) just don’t have the same opportunities to build up friendships like regular kids,” she said. “They miss out on little things like riding the bus to going to prom.”

Brandt said the best part about Best Buddies is the happiness it brings to community members.

“Inclusion truly is such a beautiful thing,” Brandt said.

Currently, there are 34 chapters in the state of Wisconsin, affecting over 2,000 members and furthering the Best Buddies mission of inclusion. Eau Claire’s chapter now boasts nearly 140 members, both college members and buddies — more than they have ever had.

“Friendship is a huge issue,” Cheng said.  “Jobs are hard too, but friendship affects them so profoundly.”

Brandt said there are several ways for students interested in joining Best Buddies initiative to get involved.

“Best Buddies is a school year long commitment,” Brandt said. “Students can join in the fall as a College Member, who receives a buddy match, or as an Associate Member.”

Brandt also said associate members do not receive buddy matches, but helps out the organization by joining committees and attending events.

Brandt plans on furthering the success of Best Buddies throughout the rest of her time at the university.

“This organization is life changing,” Brandt said. “Not just for the community buddies, but for the college members as well.”