A chapter of Best Buddies of America has been organized at Utah State University by the organization's founder, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, who described it as a "year-round extension of Special Olympics."
He said college students participating in the program commit themselves to at least a year of being "a recreational buddy" to a mentally retarded person.Best Buddies of America was founded at Georgetown University in 1987, and, with the addition of USU, there are now 68 chapters in more than 30 states, Shriver said Wednesday.
Shriver said an aunt, a sister of the late John and Robert Kennedy and of Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was mentally retarded, and in her youth there was little help from social service agencies.
"My mother seemed to sense what was needed, and by the time I was 5 years old, she had started Special Olympics activities working out of our home," he said.
Shriver said the Best Buddies organization is unsophisticated in nature and mainly consists of students using their time and energy to help mentally handicapped people participate in recreational activities.
"You might go to a sports event together, or a movie, or just out to lunch, but you'll see barriers break as you discover we are all alike, regardless of our backgrounds," he said.
Shriver, 25, said he has been involved in the organization since college graduation and receives no money for the work.
"I don't think we could have gotten this organization off the ground in 1980, but now college students are not as self-centered, or interested only in making money. They know there is a lot more to life and many of them have learned the power of volunteer work," he said.
Shriver said the organization is funded partly by the Kennedy Foundation and works with community agencies in matching the college students with their mentally retarded buddies.