When Lynn Yudofsky ’06 and Dennis Fitzpatrick first met last year, they said, they clicked instantly. After a year of shopping, bowling, dancing and simply hanging out, the two are more than great friends — they are award-winning friends.
As members of the Yale chapter of Best Buddies, an international organization that strives to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities through one-on-one partnerships, Yudofsky and Fitzpatrick were selected last month as one of seven national finalist pairs for the Volvo for Life Friendship Award. The chapter was also recently named the 2005-’06 Most Outstanding Best Buddies Chapter in Connecticut, and coordinators said both announcements reflect the Yale program’s continuing strength.
“You can’t be around them without feeling that Best Buddies is a great organization with the ability to greatly impact people,” Jessica Bialecki ’08, the college buddy director of the Yale chapter, said of Yudofsky and Fitzpatrick. “They really inspire this chapter.”
Bialecki, who was also nominated with her buddy by the Connecticut office for the award, said she nominated Yudofsky and Fitzpatrick for the award in January because they exemplify the mission of the program. They have clearly been one of the closest buddy pairs among Yale’s 21, she said, participating in many group events and seeing each other often.
The pair said their friendship quickly blossomed as they discovered their shared love for watching sports, making s’mores and bonding as fellow “shopaholics.”
“My favorite part of the week is when I get to hang out with Dennis,” Yudofsky said. “He’s just amazing. Even though we’ve been ‘best buddies’ for only a year, it feels like we’ve been best buddies forever.”
Finding time to spend with each other is one of the common challenges of Best Buddies that the pair has been happy to overcome. Yudofsky, who first coached swimming for the Special Olympics in high school, said she was happy to find out about Best Buddies her junior year and was even happier to be able to get to know her buddy last summer when she stayed in New Haven to take classes.
Fitzpatrick, who has had several buddies through the Yale chapter before, said the extra effort Yudofsky has put into developing a close and consistent friendship is a welcome change.
“She communicates with me and she always tells me if she is going to be at an event or if she’s able to hang out with me,” Fitzpatrick said. “She makes the effort to do a lot of stuff that other [buddies] I had in my past had never done. They would never call me when they would go on vacation, but she always does that.”
As part of the pair’s growing closeness and dedication last summer, Yudofsky even surprised her buddy at a big Special Olympics celebration last summer, where they said they were a hit on the dance floor.
Bialecki said that though the majority of the matches, which are made at the start of the school year after an application process, work out well, there are generally one or two pairs that do not work. She said these problems, which the chapter leaders try to attend to quickly, are often due to the very time issues that had disappointed Fitzpatrick in his past relationships.
“Sometimes you get overworked and it might slip your mind to give your buddy a call,” Bialecki said. “We stress that you don’t want to let them down.”
Another inherent challenge involved with the program is that most students move far away following graduation. But Yudofsky and Fitzpatrick said their friendship will definitely survive past Commencement, as the two plan to visit each other often when Yudofsky moves to New York City. In addition, Yudofsky said her sister will be a freshman at Yale next year, and she is already set to be Fitzpatrick’s local best buddy.
Yudofsky said her buddy was part of the inspiration for her post-graduation plans, as she plans to prepare for a career in medicine and neuroscience to help people with intellectual disabilities.
This friendship exemplifies the reasons for the Yale chapter’s receipt of the statewide award, Best Buddies Connecticut Program Supervisor Sarah Carroll said.
“They just represent the most successful all-around college chapter,” she said. “They have great friendships and events.”
Carroll said she also expects that these awards, especially the national one, will raise awareness about Best Buddies and its importance to everyone involved.
“Part of showing these friendships to the world is showing that it isn’t about a volunteer doing something good for someone,” she said. “It’s about two people bringing joy to each other’s lives.”
A short film about Yudofsky and Fitzpatrick will be featured at a Best Buddies Connecticut event this Saturday night, a Spring Evening of Friendship, at Koffee? on Audobon Street.