Student outreach creates life-long friendships with community members who have disabilities. Victoria Stunt reports
Best Buddies, an associate club at Ryerson, is a not-for-profit charitable organization creates one-to-one friendships by pairing up students with adults who have intellectual disabilities.
Students meet with their buddies — individuals with Down’s Syndrome, Asperger’s or autism, — two to three times a month, and talk to them at least once per week.
Kateryna Aksenchuk, co-president at Ryerson’s Best Buddies chapter, said that the club does not put emphasis on the adult’s disability. Instead, they focus on building friendships.
There are 21 pairs this year at Ryerson, and each are paired based on their interests and geographical location.
“You’re doing anything you’d be doing with your own friends,” said Aksenchuk.
Last semester they held a meet and greet, in which students met with their buddies for the first time, and attended the “Evening of Friendship,” at the YMCA for dinner and dancing. At the end of the year, they will go to Toronto Island to have a picnic.
Aksenchuk said that the group, which has been active on campus for eight years, is special because it gives students awareness about giving back.
Students are not only involved in a club on campus, but to also contribute to the community.
“It not only impacts individuals with intellectual disabilities, but it also impacts the lives of students,” she said. “It really makes you grow up, become aware of the world around you, and teaches you how to be there for another person.”
Aksenchuk has been paired up with three individuals over nine years. Her buddy, 45 year-old Constantino Corigliano, has been a part of Best Buddies for five years.
”I get to meet other people when we go out, and make friends,” he said.
“Kateryna is my Best Buddy. She rocks them all. She’s the Best Buddy of them all.”
Aksenchuk said that going out with her buddy makes her realize the importance of friendship,
“Going out with him makes me slow down,” she said. “For me, it’s just another outing with my friend. But for him, it’s the best thing in the world.”