BYU Experience Serves Its Special Buddies

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A party this week will offer students a chance to pal with special friends, young adults who have cognitive disabilities.

BYU Experience, a Y Serve-sponsored program that promotes friendship activities between students and young-adults with cognitive disabilities, is hosting this semester’s service at Tanner Building W410, Friday at 6 p.m.

Jordan Cook, a BYU senior majoring in nursing and a program director at BYU Experience, said he remembers the first time he met his friend in the service last semester. His name was Jordan as well.

“We paired up and went bowling at the Wilk, took pictures and ate a sandwich,” said Cook, admitting he had to put some effort into breaking the ice and starting a conversation. “At first they are  a little hesitant, but once they are warmed up, they are like your best friends.”

Cook said the reason BYU Experience invites young adults with cognitive disabilities is because for most of them schooling stops after high school, and they may not feel involved. He said all they want is to be treated as a friend in school just like other students here.

“Personally I feel like they are very accepting,” Cook said. “No matter who you are or whatever you’ve done, if you are there to give them a listening ear and some attention they will open to it. I think I’m going to definitely come into contact with more people like them in my work field and possibly family, and through BYU Experience, I’ve learned how to approach them.”

Whitney Wing, a senior majoring in economics and another program director at BYU Experience, said when she is with her “kids” she makes sure she is focusing on them, not checking her cell phone or spending time talking to other volunteers.

“I call all of them ‘kids,’ ” Wing said. “And these kids have unconditional love for pretty much anyone in need. They are going to love you no matter what, and I think that it’s important to try and feel that love back, because it is so easy to see as you’re interacting with them, really how Heavenly Father loves each of his kids.”

Wing said they can always use more volunteers. She said all the volunteers are asked to be there by 5:15 p.m. if possible.

Wanda Rogers, a mother living in Evanston, Wyo., said in an email her 22-year-old daughter Alyse loves BYU Experiences and has been excited for this Friday since she attended it last year.

“Alyse is a typical young lady and likes boys at this time,” Rogers said in an email. “At the first experience Alyse really enjoyed meeting new boys and singing and dancing.  She loved the whole experience.”

Rogers said she learned about BYU Experience last year through Salt Lake City Down Syndrome Newsletter. Because her family lives  in a rural area that lacks social engagement for Alyse, she and her husband decided to drive down to Utah for their daughter to make friends her age and have fun with them.

“[The students] will never really understand the impact they have had providing this experience for individuals with disabilities,” she said in an email. “Not only does it have a lifelong impact on the participants but parents as well.  To see our child engaged in such a worthwhile activity gaining new friends, experience real life experiences and be in a safe environment means a lot to me as a parent and I am sure to other parents as well.  Words cannot describe my gratitude to the organizers and volunteers who go to all this work.”

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