Written By Becca Karpenko
If you attend the Involvement Fair this Tuesday, September 13th, you may see a new student org with a colorful, eye-catching logo: two people with their arms looped around one another with the words “Best Buddies” above them in purple lettering.
If you’re wondering what Best Buddies is, you’re not alone. Not many people have heard about the organization, especially not in Northeastern Wisconsin. In fact, there was not a Best Buddies chapter at all in Northeastern Wisconsin, that is, until Shannon Salter came to St. Norbert College.
Shannon, originally from Milwaukee, has been involved with Best Buddies since her freshman year of high school. Upon coming to St. Norbert, Shannon realized that something was missing from her life on campus.
“I really craved and missed [Best Buddies] my freshman year here,” explains Shannon.
Shannon also realized she didn’t see a big focus on integrating people with disabilities and building relationships with them on campus.
“I wanted to see a sense of inclusion for all individuals, especially for those with disabilities. That’s what St. Norbert is all about: radical hospitality and community engagement.”
Shannon is now a junior at St. Norbert, and her dream is finally coming alive; this fall will be the first time that Best Buddies is an official student org on campus.
“Everyone’s excited,” says Shannon, who will be serving as the president of Best Buddies and working with the other student leaders: Katie Potter, Abigail McIntyre, and Zachary Langer.
Her freshman year, Shannon participated in the Friends With Disabilities trip through the TRIPS program. The trip opened her eyes to the number of people who were likewise passionate about including and appreciating those with disabilities.
“Everyone knows someone with a disability,” says Shannon. “We’re all on the same playing field.”
After the trip, Shannon began to inquire about starting a Best Buddies chapter on campus. She worked with LSE office to get approval from the Best Buddies corporate headquarters to receive the go-ahead to begin the club.
Best Buddies essentially partners people with those who have disabilities to “share life.” At SNC, students have the option of being a Peer Buddy or an Associate Member. Peer Buddies are more involved with the lives of their buddies and must regularly keep in contact with them. Students who cannot make a significant time commitment can be Associate Members. These members will attend meetings and large group events with all the buddies, such as movie nights, Packer games, and other activities.
Since this year is the first official year of the student org, Shannon mainly hopes to spread awareness about Best Buddies and gain student involvement. Her goals for the student org reflect St. Norbert’s own commitment to radical hospitality and community engagement.
Students who want to get involved can visit the Best Buddies table at the Involvement Fair or directly contact Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first informational meeting will be on Tuesday, September 20th from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in Cofrin 15.
You may also see some of the Best Buddies leaders at SNC Day, where Poppin Z’s, an organization whose mission is to enhance the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, will be selling popcorn and donating all the proceeds to Best Buddies.
Shannon’s passion for sharing life and including the excluded is evident. Her bright disposition on life is inspiring and is well-fitting on a campus that values hospitality and inclusion so greatly. We can all benefit from stepping out of our comfort zone to not only lift up others but also to realize that we are all on the same level.
“Put yourself in a vulnerable place,” says Shannon. “We need to be out there, serving and living with the community.”
Shannon encourages all students to get involved with something on campus that they are passionate about.
“Being involved help me see where my passions lie. I focused on injustices in the community, then made it my minor, and then my major,” explains Shannon.
“Take a risk and try something you don’t know much about,” advises Shannon. “Don’t sign up for everything! I was that freshman that signed up for everything. Put your heart into a few clubs.”
Shannon certainly lives out her words. After graduation next year, she hopes to live in the community for some time, either working at Best Buddies or L’Arche, before continuing on to graduate school.
“I want to see what the community needs before going to grad school,” states Shannon.
Although Shannon may soon be moving on from the St. Norbert campus, her passion and heart for those with disabilities will certainly continue to impact students long beyond her time here. Her openness and warm smile will without a doubt touch the hearts of many, both near and far.