Two University of Missouri students, Sophie Meskis and Hannah Ryan, noticed a disconnect between MU students and members of the Columbia community with disabilities. As freshmen, they were shocked to find that out of hundreds of organizations on campus, there was not one focused on building relationships with citizens with disabilities. So they began a long but rewarding process of creating Mizzou Tiger Buddies.
The purpose of Tiger Buddies is to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to form one-on-one friendships with MU students in hopes of encouraging confidence and personal growth within each of the buddies and volunteers. The pairs, made up of a volunteer and an adult or child with a disability, spend time together once a week on their own time and participate in group gatherings held throughout the semester.
“Our hope is to create not only one-on-one friendships that will last during their time in Tiger Buddies, but a friendship that will last a lifetime,” Ryan said.
The co-founders have watched Tiger Buddies grow into an inspiring organization. Looking back on these last three years, Meskis and Ryan never imagined the success Mizzou Tiger Buddies would have. They have 75 pairs and well over 100 volunteers ready to make an impact on others’ lives.
The last group gathering was Ryan’s favorite. They had a Show and Tell-Ent Show where the pairs got to share and perform with their buddies. The musical and comedy acts revealed the deep connections between individuals.
“It was amazing how the volunteers cared so much and would go all-out for their buddies,” Ryan said.
Matching a volunteer to a buddy is a process that requires care. They match pairs by considering who has similar hobbies and likes.
Meskis serves as the External Relations Director, working closely with the families and caregivers from the community who have buddies involved in the program. Ryan serves as the Internal Relations Director, working with the student volunteers to keep them informed about upcoming events and making sure they are actively involved with their buddies.
As Meskis and Ryan’s time at the university and with Tiger Buddies draws to a close, they know they are leaving the organization in good hands. Brittany Shollar and Nathalie Hill, both sophomores at MU, have been shadowing and assisting them in preparation to take over the positions.
“I am definitely nervous to take on such an important role,” Hill said. “Though, I am very excited to get to know all the other pairs and to continue growing Tiger Buddies.”
Hill will be taking over Ryan’s role this fall. She has been a member of Tiger Buddies since her freshman year and has been paired with her buddy, Brayden, for over a year now. She explained how extremely intelligent Brayden is and loves when they play chess during their one-on-one time. The pair gets to spend time at his farm and have dinner with his family. Hill has seen a huge growth in him and in herself just after one year of being paired.
“Tiger Buddies has been the best experience at Mizzou for me,” Hill said.