Shenandoah University’s Sport Business Club partnered with NW Works this fall to launch the Buzzy Buddies program, which helps university students volunteer with the organization while spending time with and getting to know the workers at NW Works.
“I am a people person,” said senior business administration and sport management major Kelani Bailey ’16. “I love helping others and socializing, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to do both.”
NW Works, a Winchester-based social services organization, provides training and employment to more than 145 individuals who typically would not have the opportunity to work. All workers are residents of the area, and have one or more long-term disabilities ranging from intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities to physical and/or emotional challenges.
Buzzy Buddies grew out of the established, positive relationship between NW Works and Shenandoah. Kelsea Farinholt, NW Works day program supervisor, knew of similar buddy programs that existed at other colleges and universities, and met with Shenandoah University Assistant Professor of Sport Management Fritz Polite, Ph.D., who suggested she pitch the idea to the Sport Business Club.
“I was so inspired by the students’ response and excitement over the program,” said Farinholt. “This is truly an incredible opportunity for Shenandoah and NW Works, and I feel very blessed to be a part of it.”
Junior business administration major Corrie Wernle ’17 serves as the university’s point of contact for the Buzzy Buddies program.
“Helping others is something I think is extremely important and rewarding, and those with special needs have a very special place in my heart,” said Wernle. “I have volunteered with other similar programs in the past and when I saw that the Sport Business Club was going to partner with NW Works, I knew I wanted to get involved.”
Throughout the years, Shenandoah University students from the nursing, psychology, and occupational therapy programs have visited NW Works for their classes; workers partner with university students who come to socialize and spend some time with them each week.
“I love seeing the excitement in the faces of both the students and the individuals when they come, and I wanted us to take that idea and grow it so that the students can remain engaged throughout their college career — and even longer if they choose — rather than just for a semester,” said Farinholt. “In contrast to the established programs we already have with Shenandoah, the Buzzy Buddies program will actually take individuals out of our facility and into the community with their friends from Shenandoah.”
“I think any time you get to help others, especially those with special needs, it gives you the chance to change your outlook on life,” said Wernle. “I would love to be able to give the NW Works individuals opportunities to build friendships outside of the facility. I hope that after the first year of this partnership, the clients, staff and volunteers think of Shenandoah students as caring individuals who want to make a positive impact on the community.”
NW Works staff members will accompany the “buddies” as they eat lunch together, go shopping, see movies and otherwise hang out as any pair of friends would. The activities will look different based on each individual’s interests, and the goal is for the buddies to get together a few times each month.
“It will be a chance for one-on-one meaningful interactions and the opportunity for friendships to develop,” said Farinholt.
“This is a great way to help them be more comfortable with others around them,” said junior business administration major Alexa Lazaro-Lopez ’17. “It’s an opportunity to build friendships and help others develop their social skills, as well as improve our own.”
“I hope that by volunteering my time to the people at NW Works I will be able to create friendships and provide an outlet for them to talk to and brighten their day,” said freshman business administration major Kit Gould ’19. “I want to be able to make them feel important and integrated into our community.”
Prior to their participation, student participants completed a short training to learn about the various disabilities and types of individuals they would encounter while volunteering. A kickoff event was held in the fall where students and workers played icebreaker games and cornhole, and had time to socialize with one another.
“I have an uncle who is severely mentally challenged and has lived in a group home for his entire life,” said freshman sport management major Laura Pearson ’19. “So knowing where he is and the things that he does on a daily basis made me want to impact someone else who is struggling with the same things that he is. I hope that the folks there will know that there are people out there who care about them and they aren’t just another number in the world and that they matter.”
A few larger social events for all participants will take place throughout each semester.
“When we think about the things that contribute to our quality of life, most of us think about our friends playing a major role,” said Farinholt. “Unfortunately, many of the supports that our individuals have every day are paid to be with them and there are few opportunities to have meaningful unpaid friendships. It’s my hope that the individuals I have the pleasure to work with every day are able to find valuable friendships like the ones that most others probably take for granted. But I also hope, and am confident that, the students will find their friendships with the individuals to be just as valuable as they get to know them and learn just how funny, kind, inspirational, and in general fun to be around that these folks can be.”