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disabilities since 1956

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GWArc and Brandeis Buddies: Building Community
November 22, 2013

Brandeis Buddies participants (l-r) Kristina Smith, a participant in GWArc's Group Supported Employment Program, and Brandeis students Leah Friend and Evelyn Wiyanto enjoy spending time together at a recent Brandeis Buddies meeting.

The following article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of The Advocate, the publication of the Arc of Massachusetts.

Greater Waltham Arc (GWArc) is lucky to enjoy strong relationships with two wonderful universities in Waltham, Brandeis University and Bentley University. In addition to the employment opportunities for our participants at both universities, Brandeis has conducted a popular recreational program with GWArc participants since 2009. Called "Brandeis Buddies," this program seeks to build friendships between Brandeis student volunteers and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who work on campus. The program began when Lucas Malo, Brandeis Director of Community Service, recognized that there was a gap of services and partnerships between Brandeis and the Waltham community that included with adults with disabilities. Through recreational and social activities such as crafts, games and open dialogue, Brandeis Buddies work together toincrease awareness of disabilities and to bridge the gap between different groups at Brandeis. GWArc Recreation Manager Katie Hoenigke explained, "By creating a place where people appreciate each other's differences, work together and develop relationships, Brandeis Buddies truly encourages a sense of community and belonging."

Twice a month, a group of Brandeis students, led by two student coordinators, gather to spend time with GWArc participants, having fun and getting to know each other. The student coordinators, Michelle Wexler and Elena Stoeri-D'Arrigo said, "The strength of the program lies in the buddies and volunteers. Each individual involved contributes passion, enthusiasm, and a unique energy which creates the ideal atmosphere for developing lasting relationships." Celebrating holidays together is a Brandeis Buddies tradition, from costume contests at Halloween to turkey craft-making at Thanksgiving time. This year, Brandeis Buddies has focused on health and wellness, offering healthier snacks and more physical activities, like Zumba. The program also works to incorporate the talents of its volunteers, featuring musical performances for the group. This year, the group has enjoyed guitar playing, a flute solo, and an acapella show. Many participants agreed that their favorite activity this semester was a group dinner in the campus dining hall, donated by Sodexho, the campus food provider. Some Buddies actually work in this dining hall during the day, and others who work around the campus come there for lunch each day. The experience of coming to eat during the evening with a big group of friends was a lot of fun for everyone.

In addition to the biweekly group activities, Brandeis Buddies has successfully fostered a sense of community for the GWArc participants that work at Brandeis, as well as the volunteers. Participants often see each other around campus, and enjoying catching up and enjoying one another's company outside of scheduled programming. This helps program participants feel that they always have a supportive group of friends on campus: their fellow Brandeis Buddies participants! As GWArc COO Liam Mansfield said, "Brandeis Buddies offers an opportunity for individuals to participate in inclusive recreation in the fullest sense, spending time with both peers and Brandeis students on campus talking, hanging out, playing games and being part of the Brandeis Community."

Volunteering with Brandeis Buddies makes an impact on students, even after they graduate. Amy Stricoff, Brandeis '11 said "What I continue to love about Brandeis Buddies is the impact it has had on me even years after my participation. The lessons I learned about communication, listening and giving back are lessons I will take with me always!"

Lucas Malo thanked the GWArc staff for encouraging this kind of enthusiasm and dedication in volunteers, saying, "GWArc CEO Roz Rubin is invested in creating generations of students passionate about working with adults with disabilities."

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