By Beth McElhiney
Coming to college, I never expected to make such a deep connection. I had no idea the impact that Best Buddies would have on my life. Best Buddies is an organization that fosters friendships between CUA students and those in our community with physical or developmental disabilities.
I joined the club during my freshman year at Catholic University and was paired with a beautiful woman named Colleen Ruppert. Colleen has down syndrome, but whenever anyone judges her solely on her disability she always says, “I’m an up person, not a down person.”
In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness month, I would love to share some personal tales of Colleen and I.
One of my favorite stories to tell others about how Colleen has shaped my view on caring for others. Every Wednesday, a group from Catholic U goes to Bethlehem House for Mass and dinner. Bethlehem House is a quaint, little blue house on Lawrence Street filled with so much love and friendship that it is practically bursting at the seams. One Wednesday, Colleen was sick and was stuck in bed, so I went upstairs to check in on her. She was lying in bed with the covers over most of her body except her face. We started talking and I would bring her water and crackers as the night went on. When it was time for the Catholic students to head back to campus, I asked Colleen if there was anything else she needed. She looked up at me and said, “I’m looking at all I need.” She showed me that the best form of medicine comes in friendship.
Everyone can have an initial judgement of those with disabilities as not being able to do anything. But you should change that mindset and here is one way to try to think of it. Having a disability is just one more characteristic of that person. It would be like discriminating against someone because they have brown eyes. Imagine a world in which we said that all people with brown eyes can’t take calculus because their brains are different than a person with blue eyes.
Now, some of you may rejoice because you hate math and luck out with having brown eyes. But others who want to be mathematicians would probably be upset if society said you couldn’t do something just because of your eye color. Just like brown eyes, a disability is something that makes that person different but it should not be the defining characteristic about them.
Everyone wishes they had a friend like Colleen. She has been my most consistent friendship throughout my years at Catholic University. She has been the one who builds me up and the one who has shaped me into the person I am today. She has showed me that love is not just in words and actions but rather in quality time spent together and caring about one another. She always says, “You’re my babe and I’m stuck with you.” I feel lucky that I am. Without Colleen, my Friday nights would not have been the same.
Now that I’ve told you about my experience with Colleen, what can you do? Well, I’m not asking you to run and be the biggest advocate for those with disabilities. Rather keep an eye out for those who are different than you and try to change your heart from a place of judgement to a place of care. Let people come into your life and try to be more accepting because you will never fully know what someone is going through.
In Best Buddies, our buddies are just like you or me and they have their struggles too but also know how to brighten your day and all you need to do is give them the time to show you.