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Everyone deserves a friend: intellectually disabled adults gain new relationships through UNT organization

Everyone deserves a friend: intellectually disabled adults gain new relationships through UNT organization

February 21
14:23 2018

A movie plays loudly over the large room of Infinite Capabilities, a day center for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The 20 clients of the program sit around in plastic chairs with tennis balls covering the ends of the legs. Some speak loudly and freely, others are quiet as they look around.

Wearing high-waisted jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, 30-year-old Jacob Mills sweeps the floor repeatedly. 32-year-old Chris Sheffield, who likes to go by the name “Legacy,” makes jokes as he colors a picture of a Koala bear. Jordyn Flores, the youngest of the group at 15 years-old, smiles as she silently walks around the room.

It’s just a normal day for the clients of Infinite Capabilities.

“We have lessons in the morning and we go on lots of outings to help them learn how to function in day-to-day life,” said Amberly McNabb, a 27-year-old day habilitation technician at Infinite Capabilities.

The day program started in October 2009 as a place for adults and teens with disabilities to come for communal and social interaction. The program serves more than 100 clients and is open to adults and teens of all ages. In fact, a typical room of clients has people ranging from 15 years-old to 80 years-old.

Infinite Capabilities also acts as the host site for Best Buddies of UNT, which is a chapter of Best Buddies International, an organization with the mission of creating one-on-one friendships between students on campus and disabled adults in the Denton community.

“The founder and CEO of Best Buddies designed it so that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have someone to make them feel valued so that they don’t feel neglected,” said Susana Victor, 22-year-old president of Best Buddies at UNT.

Victor decided to transition from Best Buddies’ old host site to Infinite Capabilities this semester. The host site is where members of Best Buddies go to hang out with their designated “buddies” who have intellectual disabilities.

“Our host sites were out in Lewisville and Flower Mound, but that’s really far,” Victor said. “We transitioned to Infinite Capabilities so that way, [members] can have more of a bond and it’s more easily accessible.”

Although the organization is in the beginning stages of its relationship with Infinite Capabilities, the presence of UNT students has already made an impact on the lives of the clients.

“They came and made Valentine’s cards with us — they loved that,” McNabb said. “It just brightens their day that people are taking time out of their lives for them specifically.”

Amberly Mcnabb, a daytime habilitation technician at Infinite Capabilities, helps Okey write his name. Okey is a client of Infinite Capabilities located in Denton.

Seeing past differences

Not many people come to hang out with adults who have disabilities, so every intentional interaction they have with their friends from Best Buddies are important to them.

The members of Best Buddies hope to create real friendships with the clients of Infinite Capabilities who make them feel accepted because they believe that’s how everyone deserves to be treated.

“They don’t get treated equally,” McNabb said. “I think it’s really important they have people who do treat them like they’re just another person.”

Taking a sip from her black water bottle, 38-year-old Amber Ethridge looks at her Bible-themed word search through the lenses of her purple glasses. She laughs as her friend from Best Buddies, 19-year-old Ivalis Guajardo helps her search for the next set of letters focused on the Book of Deuteronomy.

“Whenever I see Amber, she always lights up, and she’s super excited to talk to anyone,” Guajardo said.

Spending time with Ethridge and the other clients of Infinite Capabilities is something Guajardo is passionate about. For her, it’s not just charity work as she enjoys spending time with other people, like Amber, despite their differences.

“You should just want to be friends with somebody because you want to be friends with them,” Guajardo said. “I think it’s important that we remember these people are people, too, so hanging out with them doesn’t make you a better person.”

The buddy relationship between Guajardo and Ethridge is just one example of what a genuine friendship between an adult with disabilities and member of Best Buddies looks like.

“I just think everyone needs a friend, and I feel like it’s good for them to have that friend — that ‘best buddy,’” McNabb said. “Just because they don’t act the same way you act, doesn’t mean they don’t still have the same feelings you have.”

Friendship futures

As Best Buddies’ relationship with Infinite Capabilities continues, they hope to pair more student members with buddies. The end-goal is to help create more friendships that look beyond disability and differences.

“It’s one thing knowing the challenges people who are different have, but it’s another thing seeing past them,” Victor said. “It’s OK to see them as a person and not as someone who has a disability.”

For many of the Infinite Capabilities clients, coming to the day habilitation center is their favorite way to spend their day. At the day program, they are accepted and get to socialize comfortably, which isn’t always the case when they go somewhere else in public.

“I’ve personally seen with my clients that when you go out in public, people don’t look at you like you’re another normal person,” McNabb said. “I’m hoping that’s how Best Buddies will be with them — that they’re not just coming here to be with adults with disabilities, but to form actual relationships as friends.”

As the organization continues to aim to pair students with buddies, they also hope to have a positive impact on their clients’ lives and continue to achieve their mission of inclusion on and off campus.

“It’s really important we have a club like this because it isn’t natural yet,” Guajardo said. “When it stops having to become a club is when it will be fully successful, because you shouldn’t have to have a club to hang out with people who have disabilities.”

Until naturally socializing with people like Amber and all of the other clients at Infinite Capabilities becomes normal, Best Buddies will continue to focus on genuine, intentional buddy relationships.

“This is beneficial for both parts in the aspect of you’re both gaining friends,” Guajardo said. “We want this to be a non-incentivized, intrinsically motivated thing because everybody wants a friend, and everybody deserves a friend.”

Featured Image: Ivalis Guajardo talks to Amber at Infinite Capabilities in Denton. Guajardo is a recruitment officer and member of UNT Best Buddies. Omar Gonzalez

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Rachel Linch

Rachel Linch

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