By Cat Webb, staff writer-

Once a month, the Best Buddies club gets together to do something fun, and this month was no different, with the group heading to Splitz Alley where they rented two lanes and a ball.

On Sunday, Nancy Winters watched her daughter, Kelly Winters, bowl with her friends. It’s a mundane thing that many parents have done, but this outing was something more.

Kelly is part of Best Buddies, a club at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that partners people with disabilities with students to foster friendships. One of the goals of Best Buddies, according to the club’s president Kaley Ryan, is to expand social circles. The hardest part, to her, is making sure everyone has a well-matched partner.

Best Buddies isn’t exclusive to UTC. It’s actually part of a larger organization, Best Buddies International, which is a nonprofit that not only works to foster friendships, but also to help individuals with disabilities find jobs, become strong leaders, and live independently.

According to Winters, UTC’s Best Buddies program is sponsored by the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Therapeutic Division. She said that while a few members have been involved since its inception, the program has grown in its five years of existence.

Right now, according to treasurer Mackenzie Newman, the club has around fifty members. These are split fairly evenly between buddies and student partners, with a few extra students in the ranks to allow for expansion. UTC’s branch focuses on creating friendships and, according to Newman, the main message of Best Buddies is one of inclusion.

“The more inclusive our world is, the better we’ll be,” she said.

Many of the club’s members have been involved with Best Buddies for years. Ryan was president of her high school’s Best Buddies program, and Newman has been involved since she was in middle school.

The enjoyment of the group’s members was apparent. After her first frame, Kelly Winters danced enthusiastically while her boyfriend, who is also in the club, celebrated. Buddies and their partners laughed, talked, and cheered each other on at every turn.

“It’s something I can’t give her as a mom,” Winters said, who watched her daughter with a smile on her face.

She and other parents have put their faith in Best Buddies. Dan Petulla, who was there with his son, Chris, said that he appreciated the learning opportunity that it provides for students.

Many parents place enough trust in Best Buddies to leave their children in the program’s care and pick them up after each event. Although she stayed at Splitz Alley with the group, Nancy Winters said she felt the same about the program.

“It’s such a good group this year,” she said. “They are awesome.”

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