Best Buddies is an international organization with a focus on school programs that help build friendships between students and people with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD).
I was able to connect with Tara McMillan and Gary Sidhu, current Co-Presidents of the UBC Chapter, to learn more about the innumerable differences their club makes in the community—and how a curious and passionate student like myself could get involved.
How and why did you get involved in Best Buddies UBC?
Tara: I became involved in Best Buddies during my first year of high school after hearing about the organization from a family friend. I thought it was an amazing way to build connections and support people who have intellectual disabilities in my school, and also make new friends and bond with people in the same age group.
I joined the UBC Chapter in my first year as a member of the public representation team. This team manages all social media platforms—posting photos of past events and reminders of upcoming events. I then moved to fundraising, then became VP of Events, and I am now Co-President.
Gary: I became involved with Best Buddies UBC in my first year at university. I have been part of different organizations that assist with creating more inclusive environments for people with disabilities. I have had a great time building relationships with people that are my age and who have intellectual disabilities. Currently, I am Co-President and a peer buddy. I see myself being part of this club for many years to come.
What is your club's main objective?
Tara: Best Buddies Canada creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
At UBC, we do our best to uphold this mission through our pairings, events, and commitment to the goals and opportunities we provide to all members—buddies, peer buddies, associate buddies, and associate members—of the club.
What's the difference between buddies, peer buddies, associate buddies, and associate members?
Gary: A buddy is someone in the Vancouver area living with an intellectual or developmental disability who is paired with a peer buddy.
A peer buddy is a UBC student who joins the club and is paired with a buddy.
An associate buddy is someone in the Vancouver area living with an intellectual or developmental disability who does not receive a pairing and instead only attends events.
An associate member is a UBC student who joins the club but is not paired with a buddy. Instead, they support the club through attending our events. This is a position that requires less time commitment—allowing everyone to find a place in the club that works for them!
What qualities do you look for in volunteers?
Tara: We look for people who are interested in the club for the right reasons—people who value and understand the importance of the mission, and realize the mutual benefit that peer buddies and buddies receive from this program.
We want people who are caring, thoughtful, and committed to building a good positive relationship in their pairing.
What is your favourite event that the club organizes?
Gary: One exciting fundraising event we host every March is called Hopping It Up—originally created by the national Best Buddies branch! It involves basketball shooting games, music, and prizes. We organize this event outside the Nest, and sometimes even get the varsity basketball teams to help out. It is a great event that helps spread awareness—while also being a lot of fun!
What can members expect to experience when they join Best Buddies UBC?
Tara: Members can expect to be welcomed into a tight-knit group of caring and compassionate friends. We are very inclusive, and we host at least one recreational event a month to bring the entire club together. Members will have the opportunity to become friends with their buddies as well as others in the club.
Is there any training involved for your members?
Gary: There is no training involved. However, a peer buddy interview is conducted to ensure a good fit is in place, and that the new member is aware of the commitment we expect. While in high school, students simply sign up for the club, at UBC we have to interview and complete a criminal record check to join. They must also complete an online application, and provide a reference for Best Buddies Canada to contact.
What is your favourite memory from Best Buddies UBC?
Tara: If I had to pick one, I would say the end-of-year Best Buddies Gala we did 2 years ago in the Nest. We dressed up and had dinner together, then played games and celebrated new and continued friendships with one another! It was a great night to make memories we will never forget.