Student group brings joy to people with disabilities

04/04/16 – BOSTON, MA. – Members of the Best Buddies student group pose for a portrait in the Curry Student Center on April 4, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The students behind Northeastern’s chapter of Best Buddies International work year-round to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

On Sunday, for instance, the group’s young humanitarians went bowling with their buddies, knocking down pins while laughing it up at Kings Boston. On other occasions, they’ve gone apple picking, decorated holiday cookies, held potluck dinners, and attended Red Sox games.

More than 40 students belong to the group, 34 of whom are matched up with a buddy. Alex Linden, BHS’17, is the president. She and her buddy, Julie Belsky, a 32-year-old from Newton, Massachusetts, struck up a friendship in 2011, when Linden joined the group, and have spent the past five years bonding over brunch and their shared love for shopping.

“We talk about pretty much everything,” says Linden, a fifth-year physical therapy major. “She’s another one of my girlfriends.”

Melissa Jacques, S’17, joined the group last year. After completing a co-op as a teaching assistant at the May Institute, a nonprofit that provides services to individuals with autism, she went looking for more opportunities to work with people with disabilities.

“I heard about Best Buddies and thought it would be a really great thing to be part of,” she explains. “It’s a nice break from the stress of class and allows me to enjoy the little things.”

Her buddy is named Emma Ellison, a 22-year-old from Hingham, Massachusetts. Together, they bake, attended Northeastern hockey games, and hang out with Jacques’ roommates. “She’s super outgoing,” says Jacques, a fourth-year psychology major with a concentration in education and applied behavioral analysis. “She loves meeting new people and is full of positive energy.”

‘Special Spirit’

Ellison—and her peers in the Hingham High School chorus for students with special needs—will perform the National Anthem before Northeastern’s inaugural “Special Spirit” basketball game on Friday at 6 p.m. at Solomon Court.

Northeastern’s chapter of Best Buddies helped to organize the game, which was created at UMass Lowell to give athletes with disabilities the chance to see what it’s like to play college sports.

The event will include a range of activities for the spectators, including a relay race, a dance-off, and 50/50 raffle, but the focus will be squarely on the athletes, ballers from the Lynn and Whitney Academy Special Olympics Massachusetts basketball teams.

The players will receive the star treatment, with pre-game introductions, game jerseys, and post-game trophies. Northeastern’s pep band will amp up the crowd, which will include dozens of student-athletes, and the UniSons, the university’s only all-male a cappella group, will perform during halftime. Paws, the mascot, will be there too.

“The goal of this program is to give Special Olympic athletes the recognition they deserve and to have them be the main focus of a large event while raising awareness for individuals with disabilities,” says Jacques, the event’s co-chair. “This is a chance for them to feel like college basketball superstars.”

She noted that joining Best Buddies and organizing the Special Spirit program have reinforced her desire to pursue a master’s degree in special education. “I have a passion for this work,” she says, “and I want to stay connected to the community.”