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Whitman Buddy Program: Changing Lives

Picture of girl with her father

by Jeremy Nolan

Five years ago, I graduated from Whitman College after having spent three years in the Whitman College Buddy Program, including a one-year stint as the program coordinator. To say that the Buddy Program shaped my own values and guiding principles would be a vast understatement. The friendships I formed with community members through our time spent bowling at Stardust, soaking in the sunshine at Wildwood Park, and partying it up at the Buddy Ball are some of the most meaningful connections I’ve ever made, and I will cherish them for the rest of my life.

My time spent in the Buddy Program taught me that all individuals have inherent strengths, and that unlocking those strengths requires equal access to high-quality social and educational resources. The values that the Buddy Program instilled in me helped guide me towards my current line of work as a speech-language pathologist. I am now employed at the Vista Adult Transition Center, a postsecondary campus for students ages 18-22 with developmental or acquired disabilities that are transitioning from the public-school system out into the “real world.” I absolutely love what I do and am truly blessed to be able to work in a professional capacity that allows me to help my students become stronger communicators. So many of my students remind me of the people I befriended in the Buddy Program and constantly remind me of how much I learned as a member of the program.

While I am still new to my career, I have found that I have a particular interest in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)—think communication boards, PECS, iPad communication applications, and the like. I hope to one day start a part-time consulting business on the side so that I may help families determine the best communication supports for their children. I love knowing that there are communication tools out there to support individuals as they learn language and develop the skills needed to advocate for themselves and communicate effectively across settings. The responsibility I hold is daunting at times, but I am constantly fueled by a desire to maximize my students’ communication skills and unlock their fullest potential as communicators.

In reflecting back on my time in the Buddy Program, I can see what a valuable service it provides to program members, their families, and the greater Whitman and Walla Walla community. I love knowing that the program is alive and well, continuing its legacy of promoting empathy, educating its members, and providing fun, valuable social outlets for all involved. It’s a great reminder that we are all created equal and all deserving of meaningful connections with those that surround us.