How many friends do you have who love you unconditionally? I have many because of Best Buddies. In fact, as a previous member of the UCSB Best Buddies chapter, I could be absolutely certain at every event that I would enter a room full of people who immediately welcomed my presence and desired my companionship.

Best Buddies is an international organization that matches students with intellectually disabled peers in order to promote friendship. As a freshman, I joined the UCSB chapter and quickly fell in love with the positive energy of its members. Every single buddy is unique and yet they all share a quality of genuine compassion for others and an enthusiasm for life that I greatly admire. I have formed friendships with several buddies that I believe will last my entire life.
In addition to the connections I made with many members, I formed an irreplaceable bond with my own buddy. Ridley has become one of my best friends. When I lived in Santa Barbara, we saw each other at least once a week: going to movies, playing Rummikube for hours and having regular “Dinner and ‘Ugly Betty’ Thursdays.” After graduating and moving south, I was afraid the increased distance might strain our relationship. Just like true friends, however, Ridley and I continue to keep in touch by phone and by letters and have planned trips to visit each other. Our infinite shared interests never cease to amaze us and we like to say that we are “forever on the same wavelength.”

My experience with Best Buddies is not at all unique. In fact, I recently spoke with another college member who said she originally joined the organization in order to enhance someone else’s life, but it was she who ultimately benefited and grew from her participation. I believe that this statement applies to most of our members. From bowling, dancing and watching movies to attending Gaucho games or competing in the annual scavenger hunt, there is something for everyone and students are often surprised at how much this particular group of people affects their lives. After spending time with an individual buddy or with the entire gang, it is difficult not to walk away with a more positive outlook and a feeling of true friendship.