New student organization combines friendship and philanthropy

Best Buddies is a new non-profit student organization at Oakland University that will begin meeting this fall. The club focuses on forming relationships and advocates for inclusion.

According to the website for the group’s international chapter, Best Buddies is a non-profit organization that works with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD). Over 200 million people in the world have IDD and Best Buddies is devoted to creating opportunities for these people.  

The organization will be led by President Gina Belcastro, an OU graduate student studying educational leadership. She also teaches special education in Rochester Community Schools and has a passion for acceptance and inclusivity.

“I started working with Best Buddies at Grand Valley State University as an undergrad,” Belcastro said. “When I started attending OU, I felt compelled to introduce the club to campus.”

The mission of Best Buddies has three parts: build one-on-one relationships, integrate employment and develop leadership skills. Best Buddies is present on many college campuses including Michigan State University and Western Michigan University.

“I’ve worked with Best Buddies since 2011 and I have been completely changed for the better through this program,” Belcastro said. “My buddy’s name is Mary and I know we will be friends for life.”

Students have the opportunity to be matched with a buddy and bond in a relaxed and personal setting. These friendships provide mutually meaningful and long lasting bonds. The student organization will be hosting monthly events on and off campus for buddies to meet up and enjoy each other’s company.

By signing up for a buddy, members are able to help them create and maintain interpersonal relationships.

“Mary and I do all kinds of activities together,” Belcastro said. “We go shopping, bake cookies and watch movies.”

According to the Best Buddies International website, people with IDD often feel alienated from their peers. Best Buddies instills a sense of self-confidence and inclusion. In addition to forming friendships, the nonprofit also offers things like employment assistance and training in public speaking and leadership development.

“Best Buddies does more than create friendships,” Belcastro said. “It opens people’s eyes to love and compassion for all people no matter what their abilities are.”

All students and staff members are welcome to participate in this student organization. Other volunteer and donation opportunities can be found on the Best Buddies International website.

The OU chapter of Best Buddies is also hosting a fundraiser with Yankee Candle from now through Jan. 10, 2019. 40 percent of the profits will go toward funding the program on campus. To learn more about the fundraiser, you can visit the Yankee Candle fundraising website and enter the code 999983437.

Students interested in joining Best Buddies this fall can contact Gina Belcastro via email at [email protected]. The OU chapter of Best Buddies will have their first informational meeting on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. in the Lake Michigan room of the Oakland Center. More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page.