Senior Erika Jackson first heard about a volunteer group that helps disabled people when she was in high school in New Jersey. Five years later, Jackson serves as membership coordinator of the University of Miami chapter of Best Buddies.
“I do not have any family members with disabilities, but I have always been a very accepting person,” she said. “I remember in fourth grade, one of my brother’s friends had a sister with a disability … Her mother was impressed because I was one of the only people her daughter would talk to outside of her family. Ever since, I’ve enjoyed befriending people with disabilities.”
Best Buddies is an international organization with almost 1,700 chapters, including the one at UM that has 50 student members. Best Buddies aims to create friendships between people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people without disabilities. The goal is to get rid of the stigma often associated with people with disabilities.
Jackson, a broadcast major who is also executive producer of UMTV’s show Pulse, transferred from Gloucester County College in 2012 and found out about the UM chapter during orientation. Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center, put her in contact with Brittney Ginsburg, college “buddy” director, and Jackson got involved right away.
At her first event, she met her new buddy, Steven. From that point on, she has kept in touch with Steven through texts or phone calls. She mostly spends time with him at the events Best Buddies hosts on campus throughout the semester.
In May 2013, Jackson was chosen as this year’s membership coordinator because of her dedication to Best Buddies. Her job consists of handling applications when students apply to be part of Best Buddies.
She is responsible for matching up students with their buddies, usually through common hobbies. She is also in charge of creating creative themes for chapter events.
She likes to call herself the “cupid of Best Buddies.”
“I think that’s pretty accurate because she, at the end, is the one that finalizes everything and she has a pretty good sense of people’s personalities and she knows who could be good for someone,” said Evelyn Pereda, Best Buddies activities coordinator. “She’s really active in it and I think it goes well. I think people are really happy with their buddies.”
Being a buddy means doing everything most college students do anyway, Jackson said.
“Buddies like to do all sorts of things,” she said. “They enjoy going to the movies, eating, shopping and dancing. The buddies love dancing; put on some music and they won’t ever stop.”
Jackson said she spends at least three hours per month helping with Best Buddies. Members have monthly chapter meetings in the SAC, and monthly events with their buddies on campus as well.
Ginsburg said that Jackson’s work with Best Buddies “has been invaluable.”
“She’s an extremely reliable member of our executive board, but furthermore, she has been extremely committed to all of our buddies and to making sure all of our members have a meaningful experience through the organization,” Ginsburg said.
To join Best Buddies, visit BestBuddiesOnline.org, register on OrgSync or contact the Butler Center.