Best Buddies Program Creates Friendships for Mason LIFE Students

Posted: October 13, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

In Mason’s Learning Into Future Environments (LIFE) Program, young adults with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to take classes to help improve their literacy, as well as employment and independent living skills. It also provides them with tools so they can successfully live on campus with college students.

To further increase the opportunities available to young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, the LIFE program has been a part of the Best Buddies program for the past 15 years.

Best Buddies, founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, is an international organization dedicated to ending social isolation for people with intellectual disabilities by establishing meaningful and lasting one-to-one friendships with their non-disabled peers.

The goal of the program is a world where people with intellectual disabilities are so successfully integrated into schools, the workplace and general community that services for these individuals will eventually be unnecessary.

Currently, Best Buddies includes more than 1,300 middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country and the world. Mason is one of more than 430 active college chapters involved in the Best Buddies program. Each chapter is a registered student organization on a college campus and is led by a college buddy director.

Heidi Graff, program director for the Mason LIFE program and faculty advisor to the Mason Best Buddies chapter, helps guide the student-run organization and match the 24 Mason LIFE students with other Mason students.

“The Best Buddies program at Mason makes students more aware of all the abilities of their Mason LIFE student. They realize how many similarities they actually have,” says Graff.

“The program also opens a lot of doors for Mason LIFE students because they have the opportunity to meet people outside the university and do things they might not ordinarily have the chance to do. It really enriches their social lives.”

When a student signs up to be a best buddy they commit for the entire year and to a minimum of four contacts with their Mason LIFE student. These contacts can include e-mails, phone calls or face-to-face meetings.

One of the events organized by the Mason Best Buddies chapter is the yearly Valentine’s Day Dance, which will take place on Friday, Feb. 13, 2009. Other colleges and high schools in the area that participate in the Best Buddies program are invited to attend the dance.

On Friday, Oct. 17, the Best Buddies International Board will be at Mason for its annual meeting. During their visit, board members will tour the campus and Mason LIFE facilities, classrooms and residences. They will also view a presentation by the Mason LIFE students and hear a speech by the Mason Best Buddy Ambassador.

The board will also join Mason President Alan Merten, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development Jeff Gorrell and members from Mason’s Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities for lunch.

“Having the Best Buddies International Board visit Mason is a great opportunity for them to see what Mason is all about,” says Graff. “The members of the board are leaders within the community, and I’m thrilled they will be able see how great our Mason LIFE students are.”

For more information about the Best Buddies program, contact Graff at 703-993-8036.

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