Thursday, December 13, 2012

Creating Friendships

Something I want to do all year with my blog is to promote different groups and clubs here at UTSC. Most of us are busy with a full course load and part-time jobs so although we make the intention of getting involved we might not have the time to go out and research different groups. 

Recently, I stumbled upon a group on Facebook with a mission statement that immediately caught my attention. It is something that I personally have strong opinions about which means all of you get to hear about it! Instead of going on a rant about my opinions I decided to ask someone with first-hand experience to share theirs. This way you won’t have to read another Moiz rant and you can learn about the program from the views of somebody who has been through it. 

Yesterday, I spoke to Gabriela Osorio about the Best Buddies Program at UTSC, what she’s experienced and what the program hopes to do in the future. 

Where did you find out about this opportunity and why did it interest you?

I first heard about it in high school through a friend. She found out about it through her volunteer work and was looking for someone to start a chapter with at our school.

What initially interested me was something I hadn't realized before: that people with intellectual disabilities may feel isolation in their everyday lives due to the general population's negative stigma associated with neurological disorders. It seems obvious now, but it was a thought that had never occurred to me before! The fact that a solution to easing that isolation is something as simple as being a friend really struck me. I couldn't wait to tell everyone about the program.

Besides being a friend, what else is this program about? What does it hope to accomplish?

To me, one of the fundamental missions in participating with Best Buddies is letting someone know that people other than their family or caregivers are there for them, support them and want to spend time with them. It's all about making friends, having fun and learning from each other.

Can anybody be a part of it? What are the requirements?

Of course! Friendship isn't only for a select group of people. [Laughs] 

The only requirement I can think of is the ability to maintain a basic commitment to the program and to your new friend. We require people to treat their new friendship with utmost respect as they would any relationship, and not just walk away or bail on the friendship because they're busy. There is flexibility in the friendships as with any, just as long as it is handled with care.

With all the great things you’ve previously mentioned, why do you think the program is under the radar?

It hasn't been promoted enough around campus, most people haven't heard about it. There is also a negative stigma due to lack of knowledge about intellectual disabilities and those that have them... people are scared/hesitant to volunteer to be a friend.

Also, people misunderstand the degree of commitment required of them and see it a becoming a burden.

What kind of commitment specifically is required?

We only ask that people attend the monthly group events and communicate with their buddies via phone or email twice a month and go on one-on-one or group outings with them occasionally. It totals to an average of five hours a month ... most other volunteer positions require five hours a week!

How can people participate in the Best Buddies program?

Attend a group event --> get paired up with a new friend

Become an associate member:
1) Aid in the promotion of the program around campus
2) Someone who helps to plan/attend group events, special events and any fundraisers we may hold.
--Visit our Facebook page to access a link to sign-up.
--No facebook? contact us as

Any advice for somebody who is possibly considering signing up but hesitant to do so?

It's a little greedy to keep your presence all to yourself when it could have a profound impact on another's life isn't it? [Laughs] What are you waiting for, make a new friendship! I'm sure that any hesitation is the result of a lack of information about the program, so feel free to contact me or Luxshi Amirthalingam for any more information! Both of us are really passionate about the program and development of the UTSC chapter, so we'd be more than happy to talk to you about it and how/why you should get involved.

Huge shout out to Gabriela for putting time aside to do this interview and educating myself and all our readers about this wonderful program!

Also, if you need advice on anything you can always hit me up in the comments section below or on twitter. This is something I am very passionate about as well so I’ll help in any way I possibly can.

Until next week,
Peace and love.

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