By Jessica Witt
Dressed in a parachute dress and spandex with disco lights reflecting on her, Steffanie Wynn roller-skated to ”70s music at a ward activity. A few special guests made this ward activity different from others, however. Wynn”s ward worked with the BYU Best Buddies program to invite three intellectually disabled people to their ward disco skating party.
“The [best buddies] were very outgoing and excited to be there and energetic,” said Wynn, a sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz. “They were dancing up a storm.”
The Best Buddies chapter at BYU is one of 1300 chapters internationally focusing on improving the lives of the intellectually disabled through one-on-one relationships.
Mason Schmutz, the program director over the BYU Best Buddies chapter, said they currently have about 119 buddy pairs. They also have 15 associate members, people who attend the events, but aren”t assigned to a specific buddy.
“The purpose of the program is to reach out to people with mental disabilities in the community and connect them with a friend,” Schmutz said.
Schmutz said he has enjoyed his involvement in Best Buddies and has made some great friends through the program.
“I have truly made a friend in Dustin – my buddy,” Schmutz said. “You start off seeing it as service, but then you make a real friend. You really make a lifelong friend. When I call it makes his day. When he calls it makes my day.”
Schmutz said the buddies” parents also appreciate the program because it connects them with a friend they can rely on. Students are expected to contact their buddy once a week and spend time with them at least twice a month.
Whitney Alexander, a student involved in Best Buddies since high school, said the program helped her to better understand students with intellectual disabilities.
“When you get involved with best buddies you learn there really isn”t that much of a gap between those with intellectual disabilities and those that don”t,” Alexander said. “We”re really similar.”
Alexander said she has enjoyed activities with her buddy including the monthly activities when all of the buddy pairs spend time together.
“In this club you learn more from those that have intellectual disabilities than you could ever teach them and you have an opportunity to make a difference in someone”s life,” Alexander said.