Bonding with Buddies: students serve adults with special needs

Photo courtesy of Cameron Kallina

By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer

Ever since third grade, Katy sophomore Cameron Kallina has been involved in groups serving those with disabilities or special needs in his community.

Kallina currently serves with Baylor’s chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that pairs students with people who have disabilities in an effort to allow the “buddies” to socialize and spend time in the community.

“Giving them the sense of being involved in a community that they may have not felt before is really impactful,” Kallina said. “Especially when you’re older and have a physical or mental disability, it can be hard to be social with people. With Best Buddies in college, it’s a way to get them to interact with other people and make them feel included and appreciated.”

Serving those with disabilities has been an important part of Kallina’s life since elementary school, where he joined a Special Buddies program and met one of his closest friends.

“I started serving back in third grade when a lady began a program called Special Buddies, and I was paired with her daughter who was in first grade,” Kallina said. “We’ve been best friends ever since — that was what got me started working with kids and adults with disabilities. Throughout all of elementary and middle school I did that, and I’ve been with Best Buddies programs since high school.”

At the beginning of the year, students have a chance to meet different buddies in the program and are paired up with a particular individual who they spend time with outside of monthly meetings and at events. Kallina met his current buddy, Gary, through this process, and the two have formed a special bond.

“We’ll always have a meet-and-greet where we get to know the buddies in the program — we’ll play games to really engage with them and make a list of people we’d like to be assigned with,” Kallina said. “Gary was my number one choice. We hang out every two weeks and I always take him to Golden Corral, since it’s his absolute favorite place. I introduced him to Health Camp, and he loves the milkshakes there, and we also go to the movies.”

Along with his involvement in the Best Buddies program, Gary is very active in various sports programs and was recently named Special Olympics Texas Male Athlete of the Year, an honor that requires meeting a handful of criteria like being involved in Special Olympics for at least five years and displaying leadership among the athletes, according to the program’s website.

“Gary loves football — every time I call him, he knows all the games coming up and who’s going to win. He’s always loved and been very involved in sports — he loves participating and being active,” Kallina said. “I’m so happy and proud of him. He deserves his title very much since he works so hard in whatever he does, is determined and always has a smile on his face.”

Kallina has cherished his time in the Best Buddies program and sees it as a great way for students to challenge themselves and as an opportunity to serve others.

“It’s a new experience and a great way to get out of your comfort zone to meet new people — it’s a great community,” Kallina said. “I’ve been doing this for so long, but it’s still wonderful and makes me so happy. I love being with Gary and hanging out with the other buddies. They’re great people who just want to interact and make friends. It’s amazing to make them laugh and put a smile on their face. I love every minute of it.”

Missouri City senior Sydney Ivy currently serves as vice president of Best Buddies and has been involved in the group for the past three years. Her favorite part about being involved with Best Buddies is spending time with and interacting with the other buddies in the program.

“The buddies just love hanging out with us and being around everyone,” Ivy said. “It’s so rewarding to see the smiles on their faces when we have parties and when they give you a big bear hug when we haven’t seen them in a while.”

Ivy’s favorite event Best Buddies puts on is their annual Trunk or Treat event where members set up their cars in a parking lot and hand out candy as the buddies move from car to car.

“All the buddies came out and dressed up, and we had different organizations come help us with music and food,” Ivy said. “We’re doing that again this year, and we have a Thanksgiving picnic coming soon.”

Ivy said the best way to join or get in contact with Best Buddies is through submitting a request on Connect or sending the group an email.