In lieu of being able to convene with Best Buddies chapters across the state in person, Best Buddies New Mexico announced on April 30 that it would begin weekly Zoom trivia sessions every Tuesday afternoon.
Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that operates in 56 countries around the world, creates opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) through a network of volunteers. This goal is accomplished through a plethora of celebratory events — the most notable being the organization's annual Walk for Inclusion — and by assigning registered members a "buddy," or an individual who lives nearby that also has an IDD, to develop a friendship with.
This friendship program has chapters in every state. These chapters are often adopted individually as extracurricular programs in select schools, including universities.
Emily Schwarz, a member of Best Buddies New Mexico and a student at Central New Mexico Community College, said she first became involved in Best Buddies at her high school in Rio Rancho and is still in contact with her friend that she met through the program.
Upon entering college, Schwarz said she was saddened to discover that neither CNM nor UNM had a Best Buddies program since she felt that the program was a necessity for her making friends.
"I had a hard time making friends because I was shy," she said. "I was quiet in class because I didn't want people to hear my voice."
A passionate art student, Schwarz said she quickly noticed that a few of her classmates inadvertently undermined her work through their interactions with her.
"I noticed that some people had a squeaky voice when they talked to me," she said. "I had a hard time letting them know that they should take my work seriously. But oftentimes I let it go and just got back to work."
Eventually, Schwarz joined a newly-founded Best Buddies program in the fall of 2018 at UNM. She said she felt excited about reconvening with like-minded, inclusive individuals and participating in biweekly activities with them.
"I was so happy to hang out with people who like me for the way I am on the inside. I always look at my calendar and get excited when I see a Best Buddies meeting or event coming up," she said. "A lot of times people with disabilities have a hard time making friends because of how they sound or how they look, but Best Buddies lets them in and lets them have fun."
With the advent of COVID-19, UNM's Best Buddies chapter — like all student-run organizations — was forced to suspend its in-person meetings and events. To connect Best Buddies members from various New Mexico educational institutions, Best Buddies New Mexico has been coordinating virtual events such as Netflix watch parties and weekly Zoom trivia sessions.
The trivia sessions consist of one-hour time slots every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 and 4:30. Each week has a different theme, with this week's focusing on testing participants' knowledge of the Hunger Games franchise.
Schwarz said participating in the weekly trivia sessions has been a welcome relief from the boredom and solitude of quarantine.
"At first, I went back and forth asking whether I should do the trivia or not, because I was a bit nervous about using a computer, but I decided to do it," she said. "And it's not about winning for me, it's about having fun. I've been so bored at home, so when Best Buddies events come along I find them so enjoyable."
When asked why she believes it's important that Best Buddies New Mexico continues to offer events remotely, Schwarz said social interaction is paramount as the pandemic plays out.
"Right now people need friends, because the outside world is scary," she said. "Best Buddies gives that to us.”
The trivia sessions are open to all. Interested participants can sign up at bestbuddies.org.
Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli