By Neale McDevitt
Life for people with special needs has come a long way from a few decades ago, when they were mostly sequestered in institutions and schools based solely upon their particular disability. Today, a myriad of mainstreaming and inclusion programs ensure that many of these same people have the opportunity to live and learn side by side with their non-disabled peers.
But, while formal programs are fine and dandy, nothing beats a good friend.
Enter Best Buddies, a non-profit organization that fosters one-on-one relationships between people who are intellectually and developmentally disabled and non-disabled volunteers. The McGill chapter of Best Buddies currently has upwards of 70 pairs.
“It really is all about friendship,” said Leela Purie-Fawcett, Program Coordinator for Best Buddies’ 15 Quebec chapters and a McGill Masters student in inclusive education. “Our hope is to give people the opportunity to form relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Specifically, Best Buddies matches intellectually challenged people with students from elementary school levels right through university. Both participants are expected to contribute to the relationship with the minimum requirements being that they see each other at least twice a month and talk to each other once a week.
Purie-Fawcett herself was a Best Buddy with Jack Randolph from 2002-07 while she was doing her undergraduate degree in Education at McGill. During that time, the two hung out, played cards and went on various excursions to places like the Biodome and the McCord Museum. Every year, for his birthday Purie-Fawcett would take Randolph to his favorite restaurant, the Snowdon Deli.
Purie-Fawcett is quick to point out that her Best Buddies experience, like most others, benefited both parties. “It gives intellectually challenged people the chance to improve their lives through friendships but it gives the other person the chance to see things from a new perspective,” she said.
Their formal Best Buddy relationship ended when Purie-Fawcett set off to travel in 2007. Since then Randolph has gotten a new Best Buddy, McGill Science undergrad Laura Quilty. But, true to the highest aspirations of the Best Buddies program, the friendship between Purie-Fawcett and Randolph is still going strong. “He’s a part of my life and I’m a part of his,” said Purie-Fawcett.
For more information go to www.bestbuddies.ca/