Freshman brings “Best Buddies” to life on campus
Building lifelong friendships with people with special needs is the focal point of the Best Buddies chapter that is in the hands of freshman Jennie Ellsworth.
“This will be a comfortable environment for people with special needs and people without to be able to communicate with everyone,” Ellsworth said.
Ellsworth said that her 21-year-old brother who was diagnosed with autism is the motivation behind her passion for ensuring that children with special needs feel accepted in society. She got involved in high school by joining a club that focused on blending special needs children with those in general education.
According to Ellsworth, she has been in contact with Southeast alumna and Best Buddies’ Missouri Program Supervisor Rachel Bradshaw since her senior year of high school.
“I wanted to bring it to the college level because when I came to freshman orientation, they gave us a list of clubs and I didn’t see anything for special needs,” Ellsworth said.
Once Ellsworth began classes at Southeast she started planning the program. She first had to get the associate chapter approved by the administration and is currently working toward becoming an official chapter through Best Buddies national.
As an associate chapter, they will be planning group activities with host sites in the area comprised of 18-30-year-olds with disabilities, according to Ellsworth.
“If we get approved, then next fall we can be a real chapter, and that’s where we’ll have one-on-one friendships, kind of like Big Brothers and Big Sisters,” Ellsworth said.
She said one of the things she would like to see happen with the chapter is for people to bond in a no-pressure environment.
Ellsworth wants students who will be genuinely interested in joining Best Buddies rather than joining to gain community service hours. She hopes this chapter will thrive at Southeast.
“It’s open to anyone who’s willing to put in the time and has a passion for working with people with disabilities,” Ellsworth said.
Ellsworth hopes the people with special needs will “gain a sense of friendship” through the group activities and eventually the one-on-one buddy system. Best Buddies is not a babysitting type of program, according to Ellsworth, the club is meant for creating friendships.
“These friendships will last for a lifetime and I really hope that people understand that,” Ellsworth said.
She is looking forward to working with members and building a bond through the love of working with people with special needs.
“It’s something that’s really dear to my heart, so seeing other people get the same feeling that I get from it will be super awesome,” Ellsworth said.