Hugs flowed freely and poignant moments were abundant, as students opened their hearts and their minds to 400 special citizens from the local area for FUNDAY in the U.S.A.
Each special citizen was paired up with a student buddy to participate in a slew of activities that embraced this year’s theme of patriotism and unity.
Some swayed to melodies during music therapy, proudly belting out unifying lyrics like “this land is your land, this land is my land” and “we all need somebody to lean on.”
Others created dazzling red, white, and blue magnet hats with pictures of themselves and their buddies in the middle during arts and crafts.
“Today is about empowering them because they’re a very important part of our community,” said Sigma Alpha Iota member Andrea Floyd. “It’s so overwhelming to see how our common love for music allows us to all have fun on the same level together.”
As genuine smiles adorned the faces of students and special citizens alike, both groups appeared equally elated and humbled by their companions.
“This day is not only helping me learn about them, but it’s helping me to learn about myself,” said freshmen William Dezama. “It’s something everyone should experience.”
The mellow lounge atmosphere of the UC was transformed into a high-energy disco where the pairs danced and hula-hooped to funky oldies music. Students entering the party in the UC could not help but succumb to the almost euphoric enthusiasm pervading the room.
“It’s just an incredible time,” said junior Catlin Rivera. “They have so much love and they all have such distinct personalities.”
Indeed, there were extraordinary personalities galore, lighting up the UM campus on what would have otherwise been a dismal rainy day.
Special citizens like Howard, who is gearing up to swim in this summer’s Special Olympics; Edith, a sassy lady juggling two jobs to fulfill her dream of having her own home; and Jeffrey, an amazing citizen wearing a FDNY [New York Fire Department] hat and a University of Miami Class of 84′ ring on his finger, all proved that nothing could stand in the way of fervent ambition.
Wondrous displays of goodwill could be seen in every corner, like the fraternity brother who carefully balanced a plate of food on his head so that he could use both hands to help his special citizen down the stairs en route to the Rathskeller. When he almost lost balance of the plate, she quickly reached both arms out widely, signifying her readiness to catch her buddy’s lunch.
“My faith in humanity is restored,” said Marc Kaufman, a junior on the executive FUNDAY board. “Seeing kids that I see everyday in class and at bars walking around holding hands with their new friends. It’s just amazing what happens when people come together.”
“I’m on such an emotional high right now,” said senior Julie McCoy, another of the 32-member FUNDAY executive board.
FUNDAY Chair, Natasha Bae, spent the day running from place to place, making sure everything was going smoothly, but always taking time to stop and hug the special citizens and to invite them back next year.
“The love and warmth they have is contagious, as you can see from the smiles on everyone’s faces,” Bae said. “We are so lucky to have this chance to bond with them.”
At the end of the day, hundreds of special citizens stood hugging their buddies and each other, some refusing to let go of their warm embrace.
Their hands could be seen waving good-bye to their new buddies from nearly every window of the bus.
Those still waiting to board their buses were already talking about coming back next year.