Throngs of young people decked out in suits, gowns, and glitzy cocktail dresses gather in a sunny room of the O’Hara Student Center. The crowd mingles over finger sandwiches.
At a nearby table, Pitt junior Sydney Vickers chats with her friend, Joyce Braun, who wears a long, blue dress and has a shimmery tiara perched on her head. The attire is inspired by the Disney movie, Cinderella, which Braun and Vickers watched together several years ago. Since then, Braun enjoys making a regal appearance at big events—like today’s occasion, the Best Buddies Friendship Ball.
The ball is the annual culmination of the nonprofit’s efforts to break down barriers and create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In particular, the event fosters friendships between people with disabilities—“buddies”—and others, their “peer buddies.”
This year, the University of Pittsburgh’s chapter of Best Buddies Pennsylvania hosted the regional soiree. Months of planning resulted in the gathering of more than 300 buddies and peer buddies from colleges and high schools all over Pittsburgh.
“My favorite thing about the ball is that it’s like a prom. You get to dress up and really enjoy it,” says Braun. “All of the schools come together to have fun.” Her peer buddy, Vickers, is an economics major who joined Best Buddies in high school and stayed involved throughout her time at Pitt.
“It’s the personal connection that you form with your buddy that’s my favorite,” says Vickers. “Joyce is one of my best friends.”
Their snacks finished, the duo heads into the ballroom, where other partygoers have already taken to the dance floor. The ball’s theme, “A Night in the Big Apple,” is reflected in the room’s décor. A large cardboard cutout of the Statue of Liberty watches over the crowd. Golden balloons that spell out “NYC” catch the light, glimmering over the DJ’s table. Friends with party beads around their necks flock to a photo booth to capture the moment together. Braun and Vickers, hand-in-hand, are ready to dance until they can’t feel their feet.
Pitt’s chapter of Best Buddies nurtures friendships by hosting a number of events throughout the year. The goal is always the same: bringing people together under a banner of inclusion.
“It’s a two-way street. It’s not just that we’re helping buddies out. They help us out just as much. Both lives are changed equally,” explains Kaitlyn Wagner, a Pitt junior and co-president of the University’s Best Buddies chapter. The bond is mutual, forged through a willingness to focus on what someone can do rather than what they cannot. And if there’s one thing just about everyone can do, it’s have fun—the Friendship Ball is living, laughing proof.
This article appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Pitt Magazine.