The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday June 27th

Best Buddies empowers community members through friendships

<p>Ishan Munshi is part of the  Best Buddies program, which pairs community members with disabilities to students at Carolina. Ishan recently started his new job at Cafe Carolina.</p>
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Ishan Munshi is part of the Best Buddies program, which pairs community members with disabilities to students at Carolina. Ishan recently started his new job at Cafe Carolina.

Munshi, 24, is a Chapel Hill community member who participates in UNC’s Best Buddies program.

Best Buddies is an international organization that pairs community members with developmental and intellectual disabilities with students. Their focus is encouraging community by fostering one-on-one relationships.

The UNC chapter includes members ranging from 18 to 65 years old. There are currently 102 pairings between students and participants.

Munshi said he values his new job because he loves making people feel cared for.

“Every job I have is about making people happy,” he said.

Munshi said his favorite way of spending his earnings is donating to good causes.

He said it is important that people with disabilities not give up on their passions — precisely the mindset Best Buddies encourages its members to hold.

Caitlin Schwagerl, president of the UNC Best Buddies chapter, which is run through the Campus Y, said Best Buddies helps the participants gain the confidence and social skills necessary to succeed in working environments.

“It’s great to be able to have fun and know that you’re making an impact on people’s life when they don’t have those social opportunities that have been so readily available to me,” she said.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a recognition that carries much meaning for the organization.

“It’s important for us to showcase our buddies and their jobs and where they are on campus because making them more visible shows their potential and shows that they are more than their disability,” Schwagerl said.

She said Best Buddies encourages bimonthly group hangouts and one-on-one time between the buddies. The one-on-one hangouts can include going to the mall, a movie theater or restaurants around Chapel Hill.

Caroline Folz, the community buddy coordinator for Best Buddies, said she is trying to get the community buddies more involved in planning events. She said she wants to have a Buddy Director sit on the executive board with the students.

“The community buddies we have are happy, incredible, outgoing and joyous individuals and when you get everyone together, it’s such a positive environment.”

Schwagerl said her work with Best Buddies is more than any other time commitment or resume booster.

“It’s more of a friendship,” she said. “I know not everyone has had the eye-opening experiences I’ve had to see why they’re so important and so special.”

university@dailytarheel.com



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