The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Best Buddies organization hosted its annual Friendsgiving celebration, and it was an evening of laughter, good food and fellowship at Shannon Commons on Friday.

UMHB Best Buddies is a community outreach program that pairs UMHB students, or “peer buddies,” with individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities (IDD) for the goal of spreading inclusion and building friendships. Best Buddies International was founded in 1989, and UMHB became a part of it by bringing it to campus five years ago.

UMHB Best Buddies Chapter President Kayla Cochran has been a part of the Best Buddies program since her sophomore year and was enthusiastic about this year’s turnout.

“I know a lot of the students either can’t go home for the holidays, like it’s too far away, or a lot of the buddies don’t have a big family, so it’s a really community bonding kind of thing, and we do potluck, so everybody contributes,” Cochran said. “It’s really fun to get to see everybody before the holidays.”

Majoring in Social Work, Cochran’s passion for not only Best Buddies, but also the social service industry was evident.

“My favorite part is the one-on-one friendships, so we match them one buddy and one student, and so it’s really just a normal friendship like you have with anybody else,” Cochran said.

When it comes to Best Buddies, Cochran was eager to share about her experiences with the program, as well as applaud the people and faculty advisors within it. As a relatively new campus organization, Best Buddies has undergone considerable growth in the past few years, she said.

“It’s growing really fast; when I started, I think we had five members, and now we’re up to almost 50 – I think we’ve got 47 registered right now – and we have even more that are registering tonight,” Cochran said.

Alishia Schrock said she and her son Seth joined Best Buddies after a friend told them about it earlier this year. Schrock was enthusiastic about bringing Seth to Friendsgiving, as it gave him an opportunity to enjoy the holiday alongside his friends.

“Everybody seems to be having fun; they enjoy the food and meeting each other; they get so excited to see people they know,” Alishia said.

Alishia applauded the Best Buddies for its commitment to the community and for providing her family with a chance to meet people they can relate to.

“This is our third event; it’s nice to get together with everybody, meet new people,” Alishia said.