Dozens of high school and college chapters of Best Buddies gathered Saturday to recognize the successes of Eunice Kennedy, founder of the Special Olympics and supporter of Best Buddies International.
Although most chapters were from high schools, the University of Miami’s chapter held a strong presence.
The event began with chapter directors welcoming their members and greeting their corresponding buddy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center in Key Biscayne.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver (EKS) Day was celebrated globally and reinforced the mission of UM’s Best Buddies chapter, which strives to create friendships and develop leadership and social skills for citizens with intellectual and physical disabilities.
“I think some people might not even notice the abilities that people with disabilities have. I think they should be treated as normal and stereotypes shouldn’t be applied,” said Ashley Tirado, college buddy director for UM’s Best Buddies Chapter.
Friends, family and local supporters participated in a beach clean-up to not only serve the community, but to honor the leadership and strengths of those with distinct disabilities.
Volunteers participated in football, volleyball and other recreational activities with their buddies.
The clean-up was followed by a picnic which closed the event and marked the beginning of a new tradition.
According to Tirado, this event is only one of the many scheduled for the upcoming year.
“Every year we are involved in Gandhi Day, Homecoming and smaller general parties for all the buddies,” Tirado said. “This year we want to work closely with FUN Day because they have similar goals and try to raise awareness about disabilities. Hopefully, we can also host a new event: Disabilities Awareness Day.”
Unlike other college chapters, Best Buddies at UM has a well-organized interview and selection process.
Tirado states that buddy relationships are frequently reviewed to ensure that both buddies constantly communicate and develop a true friendship.
Joseph Vidal, a new member of the UM chapter, was eager to meet his buddy.
“I’ve heard that he’s very athletic and participates in the Special Olympics. I like to keep myself active all the time so I’m sure we’ll hit off our friendship with a great beginning,” Vidal said prior to meeting his buddy.
Vidal said the most difficult challenge of Best Buddies is cultivating a friendship and establishing confidence in a relationship.
Like all members of the UM chapter, Vidal is excited to learn from someone who sees the world from a different perspective.
“They give you a sense of purpose and show you how to embrace life’s every detail, even trivial things that we generally take for granted,” Vidal said.
Jonathan Borge may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.