By Katie Garwood | email@example.com
It had been only a week since they last saw each other, but Bobby squeezed Flagler College sophomore Rachel Singer in a hug for nearly a minute. It was like he hadn’t seen her in years.
For Bobby and Singer, this kind of greeting isn’t rare.
“Every time I go to see Bobby, he runs and picks me up,” Singer said. “He’s kind of clumsy, so he’ll trip a little bit, but it just makes me smile every time.”
Bobby is a resident at the St. Augustine Center for Living (SACL), a group home for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The home provides housing and developmental activities for its residents. Singer is a member of Flagler’s Best Buddies club, an organization whose members visit the home every Saturday morning to spend time with the residents.
Best Buddies is an organization that pairs students with someone who has an intellectual disability so they can spend time together and create a meaningful friendship. And for Singer and her buddy, Bobby, they did just that.
“I love his smile, his laugh,” Singer said. “We have a lot in common. He’s just a really great guy. I love him.”
Bobby has been Singer’s buddy since she started with the club at the beginning of her freshman year. He is tall, lanky and has an almost constant smile on his face, which Singer says is one of his best qualities. When Singer visits him and other residents at SACL, the two play basketball, spend time with the various animals on the property and most importantly, have fun.
Often, those with disabilities are excluded from society because of their disability. Best Buddies seeks to change the perception many people have of those with IDD by forming friendships with them, which in turn helps those with IDD communicate better.
“Our residents have social interactions with [Best Buddies] and people pay attention to them,” said Shannon Wilgis, head of social services at the home. “We have staff who work with them all throughout the day, but for them to get one-on-one time and special attention from Best Buddies really benefits them. It’s really nice and a blessing to have them here.”
Currently, there are about 7 million people in the U.S. with IDD. Although Flagler’s chapter of Best Buddies helps only a small portion of those with disabilities, the students make a big difference in the lives of those they interact with weekly.
“The residents just always ask about [Best Buddies],” Wilgis said. “I can’t go past cottage one without Bobby asking me about Rachel. He says ‘Have you talked to Rachel?’ Patti asks ‘Where are they? When are they coming to see me again?’ They look forward for Best Buddies to visit them.”
A few members of the group hope to make an even more profound impact on the lives of those with IDD in the future. Singer said she plans to become a special education teacher and open a school that teaches students communication skills through theater. Junior Karina Aragon said she intends to continue working with people who have IDD and hopes to ultimately work with a nonprofit organization that rescues individuals suffering from disabilities from sex-trafficking.
Deciding to work with the intellectually disabled wasn’t a difficult choice for Singer and Aragon. Singer has worked with Best Buddies since elementary school and Aragon has been a part of the club since her junior year of high school.
“I could be having the absolute worst day and have done everything wrong throughout my day, but the moment I see Scott [Aragon’s Buddy], he immediately makes me forget about everything. Just hearing about his day and everything he has done that day makes me smile and laugh,” said Aragon, the club’s vice president.
Like the residents, Singer also looks forward to the club’s visits to the group home. During each visit, students and their Buddies go outside to play basketball and mini golf, bowl on the center’s outdoor lanes and visit with the farm animals.
“I love seeing my Buddies every weekend,” said Singer, the club’s president. “I really like putting a smile on their faces, and they just make me so happy to hang out with. It’s really nice to know you can be friends with someone who not everyone sees in the same way as you.”
The group’s visits to the group home are at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, requiring members to wake up at what can be a difficult hour for some college students. But according to members of Best Buddies, spending any amount of time there is always worth the early wake-up call.
“I enjoy seeing the Buddies and making them smile,” freshman club member Delaney Peel said. “It makes their day, and it usually makes my day too.”
Many of the 60 residents at SACL don’t receive visitors often. According to Wilgis, their families live too far away to visit often and some of their families have passed away. That’s where Best Buddies helps to fill the void.
“I believe everyone is worthy of having a friend and is worthy of acceptance and love, and that is what I want to live my life by. That is why I believe the Buddies should have Buddies,” Aragon said.
For Singer, spending time with the residents has taught her a lot, not just about the people themselves, but about life.
“I’ve learned to laugh at the little things,” Singer said. “My buddy, Bobby, laughs at everything and he’s always smiling and happy. It’s really inspirational to know that there’s good in every situation.”