Good students can make the ‘Best Buddies’

best buddies thanksgiving event

(From left) Haley Varano, Best Buddies’ buddy, Kelly Sheridan, an SRU Best Buddies’ team member, Stephen Keck, Best Buddies’ buddy, and Carol Keck, Stephen Keck’s mother, enjoy the Nov. 22 Best Buddies Thanksgiving celebration at the SRU ski lodge.

Dec. 14, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When Emily Reed, a non-profit management major from Erie, graduates from Slippery Rock University in spring 2016, she may be holding on to her degree, but she'll be letting go of a large group of friends, including Steven Keck.

Best Buddies Keck and Reed

(From left) Stephen Keck, Best Buddies’ buddy, and Emily Reed, an SRU
Best Buddies’ team member.

While Keck isn't a fellow SRU student, he isn't just another friend either. In fact, over the past four years, Keck and Reed have been 'Best Buddies.'

"We've spoken about (my graduating and moving away) a little bit," said Reed. "He understands that I'm leaving in a few months, and as much as I'd like to believe he's going to miss me personally, I think what he'll miss most is the interaction itself."

That interaction came about as a result of the pair's involvement with the SRU chapter of Best Buddies.

Best Buddies, a 501(c)(3) organization, is a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-on-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Founded in 1989 by Anthony Shriver, the program has grown to include nearly 1,900 middle school, high school and college chapters, serving participants in each of the 50 states and more than 50 countries, impacting nearly 900,000 individuals.

At SRU, the group is comprised of students from a variety of majors, including special education, therapeutic recreation and adapted physical activity among others, that are paired with individuals from the ARC of Butler County.

According to Jake Paterline, an SRU junior early education/special education major and president of the University's Best Buddies chapter, the student group isn't short on volunteers, boasting 80 members. The problem is being able to get them all actively involved.

"The ARC only had 12 individuals for us to pair up this year," Paterline said, "so we couldn't get as many students buddied up as we had hoped, and some students either don't have transportation on campus, or as much time as it could necessarily take to be a buddy, but they all want to be involved, so we find ways."

A few of those ways can include helping to organize a number of events the group stages each academic year including "Spread the Word to End the Word," the yearly "Friendship Walk," and multiple dances hosted by the ARC.

paterline and morris

(From left) Jake Paterline, president of SRU’s Best Buddies chapter and
his buddy, Miles Morris.

According to Paterline, in addition to hosting group and awareness events, buddies spend a great deal of one-on-one time together, including a minimum of two outings and four phone calls, texts or emails per month.

Paterline often goes bowling and out to dinner with his buddy, Miles Morris of Butler. "Beats me every time," said Paterline with a laugh. "He's bowling in the 160s to 180s. It's not even funny what he does to me on the lanes.

"But the joy you see on his face, or the lift I can hear in his voice when I call, is the whole reason I do this. It's amazing. The happiness I get, that we all get, from being friends with someone who really lives life to the fullest like (our buddies) do, more so than what we do or you'd think that they do, is incredible.

"This program teaches you a lot about how you should approach life," he said.

For Reed, watching Keck transform from a shy introvert to an outgoing, engaging person has been it's own reward.

"When Steven and I first met," said Reed, "conversations were almost painful, but that was a component of him not having that kind of socialization before. Up to that point, Steven had mostly interacted only with other people with disabilities or caretakers, so it was tough at the start.

"Four years later, at our group Thanksgiving dinner we had on campus, there he was, going from table to table, asking people what they were thankful for, if they were having a good time and if they were enjoying the food.

"To see him being so social, open and smiling was incredibly moving. His mom told me that she never dreamed (Best Buddies) would impact him as it has, and she's so grateful for what it has brought out of him and the person he's become.

"When we first met, conversations were rather one sided. If we went out to eat, he'd have his face in the menu and just mumble at the waitress. Now he asks what I'm having and orders for me."

Reed hopes to continue with Best Buddies after graduation and is keeping her fingers crossed to one day work for the organization.

"I'm moving to Columbus, Ohio after graduation and the organization is in the process of hiring a state director with plans on opening a chapter in either Cleveland or Columbus, so I'm hoping for the best and that they'll chose where I am, and eventually, me."

As for Keck, Reed knows that he too will move forward within the program, only this time with a new buddy.

"He's made so many friends through the program and become such a different person," said Reed, "and I know he'll be just fine without me.

"What he wants most is to continue being involved and he should. It isn't about me leaving, it's about him evolving and building relationships and there's no reason he should stop now. There's another buddy out there just waiting for him."

For additional information, or to get involved with the SRU chapter of Best Buddies, contact the group at srubestbuddies@gmail.com.

MEDIA CONTACT: Robb King | 724.738.2199 | robert.king@sru.edu