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October 24, 2002 Best Buddies rewards volunteers



Morty Lighter and his Concordia buddy Michael Todary at the bowling alley.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Dahlia Liwsze

Everybody needs friendship, but Best Buddies are special.

The Best Buddies program sets up a relationship between a college or university student and an adult with an intellectual disability. Michael Todary, a third-year engineering student and the campus co-ordinator of Best Buddies Concordia, points out that such a friendship does not develop naturally.

“It’s different from hospital volunteer work, because you really get into their life,” he explained. “You’re a friend to someone who really needs it.”

Anthony Kennedy Shriver, who founded Best Buddies International in the United States in 1983, would be proud of the success of his brainchild. Best Buddies established its first Canadian chapter in 1993, and Best Buddies Canada was incorporated as a registered national charity in 1995.

The number of volunteers is growing. Laura Bailey, the volunteer recruitment co-ordinator at Best Buddies Canada, says there are approximately 1,500 volunteers nationally, of whom 220 are in Quebec.

Best Buddies Concordia, now two years old, will have 12 match-ups this year. Pairs are created on the basis of similar interests, and stay together for a year. The adults with intellectual disabilities are from the Miriam Home, which has been offering services for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Montreal since 1960.

The volunteer work is flexible, consisting of a weekly phone call and two monthly outings. Four times a year, all the buddy pairs get together for subsidized group outings. For security reasons, volunteers undergo screening before they’re accepted, in the form of two reference forms and a police check.

Todary himself began as a volunteer last year, and he and his buddy, who also loved sports, would go to watch Concordia games. He is now matched up with 52-year-old Morty Lighter, who loves bowling.

“We’re buddies because we both like sports. [Morty] actually likes hockey as well,” he said. “I enjoy taking time off school to spend time with him. It’s relaxing for me as well.”

Lighter, who has been involved with Best Buddies for seven years and part of a bowling league for 35 years, shares Todary’s sentiments.

“It’s a better life with the buddies because they come to take us out to restaurants and games, and we go to movies,” he said. “It’s fun all around.”

This is Lighter’s first year as buddy advocate, which he is enjoying. Todary explained that a buddy advocate is a functional person with an intellectual disability who helps the campus co-ordinator by representing the intellectually disabled.

Also referred to as a developmental disability, an intellectual disability is “a term used to describe any condition that includes a lifelong impairment to a person’s ability to learn and/or adapt to their environment.”

People with intellectual disabilities do not necessarily have a recognizable condition like autism or Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities may not be accompanied by a physical disability.

Statistics show that while approximately 900,000 Canadians have intellectual disabilities, three out of every 100 children are born with some degree of intellectual disability. Eighty per cent of individuals with an intellectual disability live with their families.

The sad truth is that difference often has stigma attached to it. Wanting to lessen this stigma, Best Buddies has a message for society.

“Every time you go out with someone with an intellectual disability, people realize that you’re friends,” Todary said. “People see they deserve a chance. It spreads really quickly.”

Michael Todary can be reached at 298-1652 or mtodary@hotmail.com The Web site for Best Buddies Canada is www.bestbuddies.ca.