Fun and games with Best Buddies

By Brian Koonz, MS '20 August 24, 2022

Student volunteers and Best Buddy participants laugh and dance during a Best Buddies event

Who has the best game nights at Quinnipiac? It just might be the Social Club Committee of Best Buddies.

The second Monday of each month is pretty much the best day of the month for Julia Basso ’20, DOT ’23. Come to think of it, Valerie Sobol ’20, DOT ’23, has it circled on her calendar, too.

Basso and Sobol run the high-energy game nights for the Connecticut chapter of Best Buddies Citizens, a group that helps build friendships between adults with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I always tell people it’s the best part of my month,” Basso said with a grin. “It’s so much fun. Every month, we see a lot of the same people, so it’s like we’re catching up with each other. I really look forward to it.”

From virtual ice breakers and trivia contests to bingo and other games, Basso and Sobol are two key members of the Social Club Committee of Best Buddies Citizens. Together, they promote joy, kindness and the shared social interactions that foster a diverse, inclusive community for those 22 and older.

“Game night creates an environment where really everyone feels safe to be themselves. That’s important,” said Sobol, who has volunteered with Best Buddies since she arrived at Quinnipiac as a first-year student in 2016. “You know that you’re in a space where you’re not going to be judged, and everyone is really happy that you’re here.”

Learn more about Quinnipiac's chapter of Best Buddies

For Andrew White, shown above with his girlfriend, Cate Alix, at the Best Buddies Friendship Walk on the North Haven Campus in 2017, it’s about giving back as much as participating. 

After joining Best Buddies as a ninth grader at nearby Southington High School in Connecticut, White was named the school’s buddy director the next year. He also served as buddy director at the University of Connecticut for four years.

“Being a leader means that I get to show everyone what I'm capable of — how I manage certain activities and how I can set an example for others,” said White, a member of the Connecticut Best Buddies Advisory Board. “Being a leader also means I can really serve my community. That’s important to me.”

But community, that essential blanket of belonging everyone craves, doesn’t happen randomly. And it certainly doesn’t happen by itself.

Participating in Best Buddies Citizens and making meaningful connections is just as important to Angie D’Amico and Angelo Santiago, two other regulars on Quinnipiac’s monthly game circuit.

D’Amico loves to cook, it turns out. On this particular night, her menu is all about salmon and asparagus. For Santiago, a former buddy director at Eastern Connecticut State University, the key to a meaningful experience with Best Buddies Citizens is engaging — with your friends, with the world around you, with your future.

“You have all these aspects of Best Buddies that are expanding and growing wider and wider into the world,” Santiago said. “You’re starting to see it more and more every single day in companies and businesses. So, trust me when I say this is just going to keep going up and up.”

Basso has seen the evidence for herself — the heartfelt greetings, the laughter over Zoom, the bonds that grow over bingo cards and trivia points.

“Everyone is so welcoming to each other, so I think it’s easy to find common interests with each other,” Basso said. “Just one common interest can lead to amazing friendships. Everyone who is involved in our game nights really wants to make friends. I think that’s what helps Best Buddies grow and succeed.”

professor of occupational therapy valerie strange plays with baby on blue workout ball
Quinnipiac Today: Professor promotes unity through occupational therapy

These seeds of humanity, always shared unconditionally, were planted long ago at Quinnipiac.

Valerie Strange ’86, MOT ’13, DOT ’20, has spent 36 years in practice supporting inclusion and leadership development for all people.

After working as an occupational therapist for 14 years in school districts across Connecticut, Strange joined the Quinnipiac faculty in 2013. Before long, she was volunteering with Best Buddies herself.

“Everyone has the right to be a contributing member of society,” said Strange, a clinical associate professor of occupational therapy and advisory board chair for Best Buddies in Connecticut. “It’s when we all come together, connecting despite our differences, that we can really make a positive impact in our communities.”

Debora Lavigne, the program director of Fitness, Leisure and Wellness at Quinnipiac and an instructor within the FLW program, is also involved with Best Buddies in Connecticut. She serves as a state advisory board member and faculty representative for QU’s Best Buddies student chapter.

Lavigne and Strange credit Kim Hartmann, a professor of occupational therapy and director of the Center for Interprofessional Healthcare Education, for inspiring them to engage with Best Buddies. Hartmann also helped Lavigne create a course for QU students to connect more deeply with Best Buddies.

At the end of each semester, Lavigne encourages her students — the psychology majors, the health science studies majors, the next wave of students like Basso and Sobol — to remain involved with Best Buddies after college.

“You can advocate for people in the workplace. You can continue with Best Buddies going forward,” Lavigne tells them. “This is something you can do for a lifetime.”

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