Sophomore Ryan Wirth, 19, was sitting in a back corner of a Pittsburgh restaurant with two of his friends Monday night when he got the email saying he had been chosen as one of twenty people to serve on an international board for the Best Buddies program.
The board, known as the Young Leaders Council, will consist of only eight college-aged students, and will act as a student board of directors, planning and managing new ideas and initiatives for the Best Buddies program. Ryan will travel to Indiana in July to meet with the board for the first time.
Not only was he offered a position on the board, he was also asked to help oversee all Best Buddies programs on college campuses as the college director.
“I was sitting there with two of my friends, and I started to read the email and smile, and [my friends] just started cheering,” Wirth said. “The Iron Bridge is a little more of an upscale, expensive, quiet place. And we’re in this corner, and we’re just cheering.”
“The mission of Best Buddies is a global volunteer movement [for the] ready acceptance of people with disabilities – intellectual and developmental disabilities – and it’s in all fifty states and over fifty countries in the world,” he said. “The goal of Best Buddies is actually to be put out of business – that they won’t need a program like Best Buddies to have acceptance for a person with a disability, and they also try to teach people to focus more on ability and not disability.”
He first got involved with the program in middle school, due in part to a childhood friend with an intellectual disability whom Wirth met when he was in first grade.
“When I was in elementary school, I would always stay inside during recess to go play with him in the special education room,” Wirth said. “I don’t know why. I just always did and had a blast.”
Since then, Wirth acted as president of his high school’s Best Buddies program and continued his involvement when he arrived at SRU two years ago.
Since he has begun volunteering with Best Buddies, Wirth has known that he would like to pursue a career with the program. His position on the counsel along with an internship that he will be completing at a Pittsburgh Best Buddies office this summer may provide him with the opportunity and experience that he needs to do so.
“I would move anywhere in the country to have a job with Best Buddies,” Wirth said.
For now, though, he’s excited to be implementing some new ideas and activities on the SRU campus, including a Friendship Walk, an on-campus dance, and more. Typically, the process of pairing up begins during the fall semester, as student volunteers are paired with their buddies.
“On campus, we work with the Arc of Butler County, and that’s where our college buddies are from,” Wirth said. “Students are paired one-on-one with a buddy. At the beginning of the year, we’ll match a college student with a person with a disability who’s over 18, and they have the requirement to talk to them once a week on the phone, through text, email, or some sort of communication, and then have two outings in the community a month. You really become a good friend with them, and that’s the point behind Best Buddies – friendship.”
Wirth said he sees the value in friendship and the bond between two buddies.
“That’s the absolute best feeling- that you could pass that on to someone,” he said. “And you start to understand why people do [the Best Buddies Program] and why people interact with people with a disability and to understand that there’s much more than their disability. They’re just there to have a good time. It’s absolutely awesome.”
While Wirth said he agrees that the program isn’t for everyone, he urges students to check it out.
“You’ve got to try it,” he said. “If you’re timid about it, ask questions to people who are involved. Ask anybody who is involved on campus. It’s a whole different feeling. It’s hard to describe. [Your buddy] becomes a whole other aspect that you look forward to each month.”
Interested students can find out more information from the Special Education office in 114 McKay or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There are so many stories that I could just start telling,” Wirth said. “I could talk for hours. [You’re] just out there having a blast, and you’ll never see bigger smiles.”