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Best Buddies a big hit

BY MARLEEN LINARES | DECEMBER 17, 2009 7:30 AM

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As Laura Vukelich and Erin Schubert sat in a local ice-cream shop talking and laughing, they raised their arms to touch their fists together.

“Best friends forever,” Schubert said with a bright smile on her face.

“And ever and ever,” Vukelich responded reassuringly.

UI sophomore Vukelich and Schubert became friends through the UI chapter of Best Buddies, a national program dedicated to creating one-on-one relationships with people with learning disabilities.

The group has been around for roughly two decades, but this semester, it has seen increased interest, said UI sophomore Rachelle Lasquite, the UI Best Buddies director.

Approximately 100 students are paired with someone who is disabled at the UI or in the community, with around 20 associated buddies who go the group’s main events.

Because of the its popularity this year, the organization could not pair every volunteer who requested a buddy.

Along with organized events, the pairs meet regularly for outings.

Vukelich, the program’s vice president, started meeting with Schubert in September. Matches are determined by comparing surveys that both volunteers and participants in the program fill out.

Vukelich chose her friend. After meeting Shubert a year ago, Vukelich said, she wanted to be her budy because of her exuberant personality.

“I had already met her a few times and felt like she’d be a great buddy,” Vukelich said as she glanced at Schubert, smiling. “She’s just so happy and always has a smile on her face.”

Schubert, who is able to live independently, first started in Best Buddies five years ago through the Realizing Educational and Career Hopes program at the UI. That program helps young adults with learning and cognitive disabilities become independent, engaged members of their community, according to its website.

Schubert lives in an apartment with a roommate who is also in Best Buddies. She said she plans to participate in the program for many more years.

“I really love Best Buddies,” Schubert said. “The friends I’ve made through the program are great. I’m very glad I became a part of it.”

Vukelich joined Best Buddies last year after learning about it from a friend at her sorority house, and she said she enjoys helping.

“The people in this program make me so happy,” she said. “People tend to discriminate easily, and this program makes such a big difference in their lives.”

Vukelich said Schubert is also a major reason she likes the program so much.

“We have so much fun together,” Vukelich said, reminiscing on their memories of karaoke nights, dinner dates, and Best Buddies events. “She has a stunning personality, and she’s beautiful. She’s very much my best friend.”


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