Tiger Buddies is a new organization on campus that pairs MU students with members of the Columbia community who have disabilities. The pairs get together monthly and attend social gatherings where all of the buddies come together.
Tiger Buddies started out as a group under the Mizzou Unity Coalition.
Sophomore Hannah Ryan, one of the presidents of Tiger Buddies, and sophomore Sophie Meskis decided they wanted to develop the group more while under the Mizzou Unity Coalition. They soon realized the group was moving quickly, however, and decided to separate the groups.
Ryan said while there are groups in the Columbia community promoting inclusion of people with disabilities, there wasn’t a group like that specific to MU’s campus.
“We wanted to do something that would connect students with their community, more specifically the disabled community around this area,” she said. “We felt like this was something that needed to be done here.”
The organization recently won a Chancellor’s Excellence Award for their efforts in working with the disabled community.
Ryan said winning the award was an incredible feat for the organization.
“We love our org, but we also know how much talent there is in other orgs,” she said. “You can see the things that are happening on campus and just be like ‘Oh, that’s impressive.’ It was really cool to see that somebody noticed what we were doing.”
The buddies paired with MU students range from ages four to forty, all of whom have different mental or physical disabilities.
Sophomore Megan Anderson said that she wants to help the community understand what it means to have a disability.
“If people don’t understand things, they tend to be wary and not want to get involved with it,” she said. “I really enjoy that Tiger Buddies is a stepping stone for people who want to get involved in the community.”
Tiger Buddies is based off of the group Best Buddies International, which also pairs up students with a person with a disability to hang out with, Ryan said.
Best Buddies International, however, has no programs in the state of Missouri.
Meskis said she grew up with groups promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities, so when she saw that there were no groups like that at MU, she was concerned.
“When I came to Mizzou and originally saw there wasn’t anything like that here, I was like ‘This is something that we need,’” she said. “‘We need something to promote that inclusion idea in the community.’ I think that Tiger Buddies really helps with that not just around campus, but throughout the community.”
While Tiger Buddies has grown exponentially over the past year, Ryan and Meskis both agree that they want to continue to push the organization to expand more.
“We have a lot of special education majors, physical therapy (and) occupational therapy majors in the group right now, which is great, but I think our program can go on a lot larger scale than that,” Meskis said. “I think by reaching people from different parts of the university for whom maybe this is out of their comfort zone, we could actually help promote the idea of inclusion.”
Anderson’s buddy is a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome. She said she and her buddy have done many different activities, including cooking parties, trips to Stephens Lake and a camp-themed night where they made bracelets and s’mores.
Anderson said her buddy has had a significant impact on her life.
“I had the worst week a couple of weeks ago. It was awful, classes were rough, and I just hated it,” she said. “But then, I saw her and she just made my day. I almost started crying because she made me feel amazing about myself.”
Ryan said Tiger Buddies is focused not only on connecting people with one another, but is also focused on learning from others and educating a community.
“We’re educating, and we’re doing that mainly through making friendships,” Ryan said. “We’re not just sitting people down and saying ‘OK, this is how you interact with these people’ or anything like that. We’re showing that these two communities are very similar, and that we can all learn from our differences.”