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NIU group promotes inclusion of people with disabilities

DeKALB – Dezirae Ninow wants others to join her in walking across the invisible line that continues to unfairly isolate a portion of the population.

Ninow, a sophomore at Northern Illinois University, is hoping to raise $2,500 and recruit team members for the Best Buddies Friendship Walk on April 13 at Loyola University. The walk promotes the inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The education major said the fundraiser is an important step in launching more chapters across Illinois colleges and universities. NIU’s chapter boasts 92 students from a variety of majors and more than 30 “buddy” partnerships, which pairs a student with a person with disabilities to help that person spend time out of his or her often isolated environment.

“It’s not a time commitment, because you become friends and enjoy spending time with each other,” Ninow said. “I have learned more from [people with disabilities] than they have from me. They’re wonderful people.”

Activities Ninow has done with her buddy from DeKalb High School include bowling, singing a duet at a talent show and becoming close friends with her family over multiple dinners.

While the NIU Best Buddies name has become more known in the community in recent years, Ninow said she hopes the walk will help expand the group’s presence and let families with people who have disabilities know about the services.

Jennifer Duffy, who will serve as the chapter’s president next year, said the group is always looking for more buddies for members to meet. She said she is planning an informational meeting about the organization in September at Opportunity House in Sycamore.

“People really enjoy it,” she said of the friendships that are made. “It’s amazing to see how much in common we all have with each other.”

Duffy said the group hosts multiple events including a talent show and the recent Spread the Word to End the Word promotion that teaches residents about the negative effects and connotations of using the word retarded. 

Those interested in donating to or joining the walk can find more information at www.bestbuddiesillinois.org.  

If you go

What: Best Buddies Friendship Walk

When: 10 a.m. April 13

Where: Loyola University in Chicago

Why: To promote the inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in everyday activities and programs. 

How to donate: www.bestbuddiesillinois.org

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