By Riley Holcraft, Staff Writer —

Best Buddies International is an organization committed to easing the isolated feelings of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities through friendship. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has its own Best Buddies Club that pairs students at UTC with persons with disabilities in the community. Mackenzie Newman, President of Best Buddies at UTC, has a passion for the fellowship that is created by the program.

“The most fulfilling thing about being president is seeing relationships and growth from beginning to end. It’s really a beautiful sight,” stated Newman. Throughout the year, Newman and other club officers plan group events like bowling and pizza parties for UTC students and their buddies. Each pair is matched according to shared interests and is encouraged to spend time together to form lasting bonds.

Best Buddies at UTC hosted a student-organized silent auction to raise money for the following year at Mountain City Club on Saturday, February 23. The event also featured a talent show for the buddies to showcase their singing and dancing skills. Light refreshments were served, and with the purchase of a ticket, participants had the chance to win raffle prizes. The auction items included week-long vacations, themed baskets, restaurant certificates, and more.

Club Treasurer, Lainey Harrison, has participated with the Best Buddies Club for her entire career as a student at UTC. She is a special education major and former president of the club, as well. She and her buddy, Kelly, have been partners for four years. They love to go to concerts and have sleepovers in their shared time together.

“For us, this auction means we get to continue having a program. We are raising money to send an officer to a training conference to help us have a successful year. Funds are also used for club activities,” explained Harrison. With over 50 items for sale, the silent auction raised a total of $1749 that evening, not including additional donations.

The room was filled with laughter and delight during talent show performances. One performer, Karrie Brown, sang Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with joyful liveliness. Brown, however, is no stranger to the spotlight. She has over 35,000 followers on social media and experience modeling for multiple fashion agencies. She is a self-proclaimed fashionista and loves snapping photos in pretty clothes.

Another performance by Tra St. Pierre had the audience dancing along to “Stuck Like Glue” by Sugarland. St. Pierre is not only gifted in song, but he also has admirable confidence. He is proud to let everyone know that he has down syndrome, and his enthusiasm for life inspires others to embrace their unique qualities.

Nearing the close of the event, a live auction took place for items that still remained. Bidders snagged some good deals, and all of the items were sold by the end of the night. Best Buddies expressed their gratitude for all of the community support they received and is excited for the years of partnership to come. The group will continue to establish lasting friendships and spread joy in the hearts of students at UTC and persons facing challenges in the community.

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