Updated: May 6
“Dribble the ball, yeah!”
The encouragement comes from section 102 up on the Curb Event Center bleachers.
“I believe in you girls,” an enthusiastic pirate-hat-wearing person said.
“I’m with you on that,” Dean chimed in.
Dean and the rest of the group are showing up for the Bruins, the community and the pizza party planned for after the game.
They’re all good friends with more things in common than not — one being participation in Belmont’s Best Buddies chapter.
The Feb. 19 Belmont women’s basketball game versus the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars was only one of the monthly meet-ups the organization sets up for its buddies.
For junior psychology major and Best Buddies Belmont vice president Melody Alvarez, it was her first time planning an event with help from other group members, and it made for some fond memories.
“It was so fun to see everyone get together and help out,” Alvarez said.
And that’s also why she wanted to be a part of the organization — to get people together.
Her younger cousin has autism, and it’s through their relationship Alvarez discovered her passion for working in the special needs field. Now, she plans on going into disability social work after completing her education.
She joined Best Buddies in August of 2020 when COVID-19 regulations were still enforced and Zoom meetings replaced in-person interactions.
But you take what you get and Alvarez fell in love with it, she said.
“It holds a really personal and special place in my heart,” Alvarez said. “I want to do it for people who don’t feel like they have a voice and aren’t gonna realize that people are talking down on them.”
Another Belmont student standing up for the special needs community is junior psychology major Jessica Dahm.
“Inclusion is just so important in making sure that people with special needs … have somebody they can talk to about their interests,” she said.
Her best buddy is Dean, with whom she shares many interests, such as their love for music.
Rock ‘n’ roll is the main subject in their daily texts and weekly chats over the phone and Dahm plans on bringing her friend to see a show in the near future.
As with Damn and Dean, the organization makes an effort to pair buddies with similar interests. For freshman co-president and nursing student Brigitte McGuire and her buddy Jay, sports is something that connects them.
A highlight in their friendship took place at Bridgestone Arena as the Nashville Predators played a home game. Through Best Buddies Tennessee, they even got to meet the players.
To see Jay’s and other buddies’ joy when getting together is what keeps McGuire going, and she’s been going since middle school.
“It’s always been a part of my life,” McGuire said. “And I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
“The amount of friendships I’ve been able to make, it’s just really special, meeting so many amazing people who I normally wouldn’t meet,” she said.
Many mutual buddies are made — just like Jay is friends with McGuire, McGuire is friends with Dahm, Dahm is friends with Dean and Dean’s best friend is Sayer. Connections are easily accomplished through the organization.
And it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Sayer is another involved buddy. He enjoys the fun phone calls with his friends and the women’s basketball game was a hit as well, he said.
“I did love eating the popcorn and the candy,” Sayer said.
For the student body of Belmont who enjoys eating popcorn and candy, among other things, getting involved — in whatever capacity — only requires reaching out to the chapter via BruinLink and applying through Best Buddies Tennessee.
The leaders of the chapter would be the first ones to encourage becoming a buddy.
“I just think that it’s not only going to change their lives, but it’s changed my life,” Alvarez said. “And I feel like it can change a lot of other people’s lives.”
PHOTO: The Best Buddies logo by Keith Haring. Best Buddies International.
This article was written by Jessica Mattsson.