What do girls like to do to look their best? Get their hair done? Manicure? Exercise? For nearly three years, Patricia Tang and Elizabeth Rourke have been friends and enjoy many fun activities together. Elizabeth lives at S:US’ Vernon Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) and the two women met and became best friends through the partnership between S:US and the Best Buddies organization.
In high school, Patricia volunteered with an organization called the Keyettes, a group that did a lot of work with the Best Buddies organization which she always enjoyed. The impression of her experiences with the Keyettes and Best Buddies stayed with her and, upon graduating from law school, she wanted to return to being a volunteer in NYC. While attending a Best Buddies’ fundraiser, Patricia connected with that organization’s New York State Director and was asked to join their board. Her agreement to serve was contingent upon her request to become a buddy to an individual with an Intellectual or Developmental Disability (IDD).
Over time, Patricia’s friendship with Elizabeth has blossomed through shared interests but, just as importantly, through the quality of their meaningful interactions. Even though Patricia often racks her brain for ideas to do unique activities with Elizabeth, they have fun together no matter what they end up doing – taking a walk, getting manicures (pictured) or participating in a Best Buddies fundraiser together. When asked about her favorite memories with Elizabeth, it was difficult for Patricia to choose just one. She shares, “Every moment with Elizabeth is so special and I have so many favorites…there was a group (Best Buddies’) activity on the Upper East Side but I had to work…on the way to my appointment, I bumped into Elizabeth…who shouted my name and came running over to me to give me a huge hug and kiss. We had only met a few weeks earlier so it absolutely melted my heart when she not only recognized me from afar but knew my name too.” Patricia related another favorite memory which took place at a fundraiser at a Soul Cycle spinning studio for the Best Buddies’ charity ride. Patricia had taken Elizabeth to the studio, but was concerned that the dark room, colored lights and loud music may be too much for her. But when the music started playing, Elizabeth got up in front of the whole class to sing and dance along while everyone rode their stationary bikes. She was a big hit with the crowd and motivated the riders to keep going!
Fostering their friendship has changed Patricia enormously. She appreciates the precious moments of life just a little bit more now and admits, “Elizabeth has taught me to slow down, to be present and to be mindful that it is the little things in life that are most important – a smile, a hug, walking hand in hand, a simple ‘I missed you’ or telling someone who makes you happy ‘I’m happy’, which are two of Elizabeth’s favorite sayings. I think that people are often surprised that I spend so much time with her…but for Elizabeth, I slow it down and remind myself to enjoy life!”
Due to the meaning and importance of their friendship, Patricia always takes the opportunity to share their friendship with her social network in order to raise awareness about the needs of individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and foster friendships with these individuals through Best Buddies and S:US. Elizabeth is a huge part of her life and “…nothing makes me happier than a call from a friend asking her how they can become a Best Buddy.” Elizabeth is a warm, outgoing and friendly woman who breaks down social barriers. Patricia shares, “I like to think that we make a difference in everyone’s life that we encounter. People often stare at us when we are out…but Elizabeth will happily wave at them and want to shake their hand. She makes everyone stop and pause for a moment. I can see it in their eyes –I’m not sure what it is that I see, but I like to think it’s HOPE.”
S:US celebrates Patricia for her committed and steadfast dedication to not only being a Best Buddy to Elizabeth, but also for increasing awareness of the opportunities to foster special relationships with individuals who have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.