By Tracy Lim
The thud of bowling balls hitting wooden floors and crashing into pins is noisy tonight at the Irvine Lanes Bowling Alley. Equally loud are cheers of “Yes!” (after strikes) and constant laughter from bowling gutter balls. Luckily, the commotion doesn't faze Ricky Kim and Shahrzad Yavari, who are paired up as part of UCI's Best Buddy program.
“Ricky is really good at bowling, huh Ricky?” says Shahrzad Yavari. He immediately agrees and tells us to “watch.”
Ricky Kim, 27, stands at 5’5,” and has a rounder physique and flatter facial features compared to most young adults his age. He walks onto the glossy wooden floor with complete concentration and disregards all the noise and distractions around him. He focuses on one thing only: the ten pins placed at the opposite end of the lane, arranged in a perfect triangle. Ricky grabs the neon pink eight-pound ball with his shortened fingers and places the ball up to his face and slowly swings the ball down to the right his body. He gracefully releases the ball directly in the middle of the lane and slams eight out of the ten pins. Success! To show his accomplishment, Ricky positions his thumb and index finger of his right hand as a gun. He then holds the “gun” up to his lips and blows the top. As Ricky turns around and walks towards his seat, his Best Buddy Shahrzad cheerfully yells “Good Job” and gives him a high-five.
Bowling with Shahrzad is one Ricky’s favorite activities. Three days prior to their outing, Shahrzad called Ricky asking him if he wanted to hang out. He responded with “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” She then told him that they could do whatever he wants to do. He excitedly responded with “Okay, yeah let’s hang out, let’s go bowling.”
Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization created by Anthony Kennedy Shriver in 1989. This international organization integrates employment, focuses on leadership development and creates one-to-one relationships for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). Best Buddies Jobs assist people with IDD to find and maintain jobs through ongoing support and training. They are then able to earn an income, pay taxes and work with others in the community. Best Buddies Leadership encourages and empowers people with IDD to become self-advocates and publicly speak to various institutions and communities. Best Buddies has expanded from a single chapter to a global organization involving six continents, 46 countries, and participants in all 50 U.S. states. Middle schools, high schools, and over 1,500 colleges around the world have joined this global movement. All schools focus on creating one-to-one relationships with students with IDD. There are 40 to 50 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States and close to 200 million worldwide. Although these are huge figures, Anthony Shriver and the rest of the Best Buddies members have impacted 700,000 people worldwide.
The UC Irvine Best Buddies club, led by second-year Psychology and Social Behavior student Jenny Dao, is one of the many chapters that encompass the Best Buddies organization. Jenny explains, “This club promotes the simple beauty of friendship and acceptance.” Each UC Irvine member becomes a ‘Peer Buddy’ and is paired up with a ‘Buddy’ who is either a student or alumni of the Irvine Valley College Transition Program for students with disabilities. The College Board Director (President), Jenny Dao and the Activities Coordinator, Shahrzad Yavari match the 12 pairs based on profile sheets that each member fills out during the start of the year. After the Buddy Pairs are formed, the Peer Buddy contacts their Buddy at least once a week as part of their responsibilities. The pairs also hang out at least twice a month, which can range from catching a flick, grabbing dinner, going bowling, or even just playing video games.
Shahrzad Yavari and Ricky Kim’s cherished friendship, began about two years ago thanks to Best Buddies.
“My Buddy is one of my best friends,” says Ricky. “She is nice and she’s cool!”
Shahrzad, Ricky’s Peer Buddy is a fourth year Public Health major from Irvine, California and is a three-year member of Best Buddies.
Shahrzad explains, “Ricky has been such an amazing friend to me. Even outside of Best Buddies I talk about him with my friends. My friends know him and he knows them. My family has met him and love him.”
Ricky, Shahrzad Buddy has Down Syndrome but still lives his everyday life just as any other individual. He is an Irvine Valley College alumnus, an employee of the Goodwill Store, a five-year member of the Best Buddies Club, and a social butterfly.
On Wednesday May 26th about a week after Shahrzad and Ricky’s bowling night, UC Irvine’s Balboa Island B conference room glared vivid colors of blue, orange, green, red and yellow, which deviated from the normal bare blue walls in the room. The colors spilled onto the white walls of the hallways reflecting the hues onto the passer-byers. A metallic foil coral reef hung in the center of the room like a disco ball and strings of Hawaiian flowers and green and yellow streamers stretched across the room. A 5’x5’ Best Buddies banner bearing the official Keith Haring logo hung from the clips of the white board in front of the room. That particular room on that particular day was decorated so fittingly almost as if a group of elves snuck into the room the night before and left the beautiful decorations as a present. Those elves are the six Best buddies officers that decorated the room for the end of the year banquet: Jenny Dao, Shahrzad Yavari, Elsie Silva, Dawn Morris, Lea Lang, and Charlene Saddul all who have committed countless hours throughout the year to promote the beauty of friendship.
At 6:45pm the members entered the festive room, 15 minutes after the start time listed on the invitation. Each individual walked into the room with a smile; the colors in the room were symbiotic with the energy exerted from the members. The evening was full of contagious laughter and glittering smiles. The banquet started with four rounds of heads-up-three-up instead of the traditional heads-up-seven-up. Heads-up-three-up began with three (instead of seven) selected members that stood in front of the room. Then the remaining members sat at the table with their heads down, eyes closed, and a thumb sticking out. The chosen three walked around the room, secretly pressing down on someone’s thumb and then returning to the front of the room. From there everyone raised their heads and those that had their thumbs pressed stood up and guessed who tapped them. When they guessed correctly then the two switch roles and the game started again. Following Heads-Up-Three-Up was the game of Telephone. Telephone began with Dawn Morris whispering, “Panda bears eat peanut butter” to Lea Lang who was sitting next to her among 22 other members who were seated along the two rows of long tables. From there the message was whispered from one ear to another—all 24, until the message reached the final person, one of the Buddies Lauren. Lauren blurted “Thank you Ben.” Dawn announced the original message and the members could not help but laugh.
Aside from an evening filled with activities, the banquet was also a night of inspiration. 45-year-old David Gauthier who has Cerebral Palsy was a guest speaker at the banquet. He is an ambassador for Best Buddies Jobs and Leadership and speaks, “for Best Buddies everywhere and anywhere.” Gauthier explained to the 24 members in the room that because of Best Buddies he currently works for the Mayor of Long Beach. Best Buddies has “opened many doors” for him and he even worked as an intern for Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento. Gauthier spread his optimism and reinforced the idea that “We need to show what a person with a disability can do! Not to be mediocre.” He constantly thanked the Best Buddies organization and stated, “they placed faith on me which is something I will never be able to repay. There is so much potential for anyone and we see that potential reached within.”
David Gauthier also praised the aspect of friendship in Best Buddies, “Friendship goes on and gives hope. Hope is the greatest thing because it gives us faith and love.” He speaks directly to the Buddies and tells them to never give up on their Peer buddies because they will never give up on them. He ends his speech with “What you do friendship wise, they will be there for life and no one will be as caring as them.”
Shahrzad and Ricky’s friendship clearly delineates love, faith and hope. Shahrzad reminisces about their many beach trips. “The most fun outgoing activity with him has always been going to the beach. He loves the waves and ocean. The way he appreciates the beauty of the beach, I have never seen it in anyone else. He makes me laugh so hard whenever we are at the beach because he always likes to chase me and throw me in the water and we have a blast just running and being silly.”
Ricky vocalizes, “I love my Buddy, she is always there for me you know? And she always talks to me and hangs out with me.”
Four pizzas later and two games later, the banquet comes to an end. It was a night packed with games, awards, dancing, thank yous, and a big family picture at the end. The end of the banquet marked the finish of a successful year filled with a Disneyland trip, a beach trip to Corona Del Mar, picnics at the park, bowling nights and other memories that will not be forgotten. It was another year where friendships that were planned out and forced transformed into magical relationships. Unfortunately, the end of the banquet also means the end of Best Buddies for the graduating seniors: Shahrzad Yavari and Tera Perry.
As a buddy pair you get so accustomed to hanging out and talking to your buddy. But once the Peer Buddies graduate, they move away, find a job, or go to graduate school; so the future of the Best Buddies friendships is always uncertain. The College Buddy Director Jenny Dao stated that,
“ The hardest thing to see is when the Peer Buddies have to leave because they are graduating from UCI. You don’t want your Buddy to think they had a fake relationship; you don’t want them to think that you are just their friends because of the club. You want to build lifelong friendships with them but at the same time it is hard to expect all paired up friendships to just bloom into real friendships. But in certain cases it does.” The main reason why all the Buddy Pairs worked out this past school year and why everyone was sad that the year was over is because of Jenny’s great leadership. Jenny’s contagious unconditional love, passion and commitment for Best Buddies led to the success of this organization.
Ricky Kim, Shahrzad’s Buddy expressed his sadness saying, “ I am hurt that she is going to leave me, she is my best friend you know?” Ricky discussed that this may be his last year in Best Buddies because he does not know who will be his Buddy next year. Before Shahrzad, he had two other buddies that graduated. Ricky gave the impression that he wasn’t ready to get attached to another person and eventually risk losing someone else he cares about. Shahrzad told Ricky not to be silly and told him that he will be paired up with another Buddy. She reassured him that just because she will no longer be in Best Buddies that doesn’t mean they would no longer hang out and be friends. Shahrzad knows that their friendship will definitely last and her graduation will not affect their powerful bond.
Shahrzad told Ricky, “I’ll see you on your birthday, August 15th right?”
Ricky’s frown turned into a huge smile and he replied, “You’re coming?”
Shahrzad responded back with a comforting smile, “Of course I would not miss it.”
-Observed the 45 min. meeting of Spring Quarter at Moss Cove B Student Center
-Observed a 30 minute officer meeting at Peet’s Coffee
-Observed 2 hr. bonding session with Shahrzad Yavari and Ricky Kim- bowling
-Observed/Interviewed 2.5 hr. End of the year banquet
-Interviewed Jenny Dao for 1.5 hrs.
Evite Beach Party Event
Evite End of the Year Banquet
UCI Best Buddies Facebook Group
Best Buddies Official Website
UCI Best Buddies officer agenda
Tacos and Co. Fundraiser flier
Ability Magazine article on Best Buddies