The [SAE] chapter at East Tennessee State has been volunteering with FRIENDS for the better part of the last 15 years, building a reputation as one of the volunteer staples in the community.
FRIENDS is a non-profit organization that promotes the quality of life for people with down syndrome by providing group support. They encourage a community understanding of people affected by down syndrome by raising awareness for those less fortunate.
In recent years, the chapter at East Tennessee State has gone above and beyond to help the organization out with its annual Buddy Walk and many other events. However, this year’s Buddy Walk was not like any normal one due to the pandemic.
“A big thing about it is it’s more than just doing community service. I think the guys enjoy it,” Eminent Archon Erwin Lopez said. “Of course, we get to speak to a bunch of parents and a bunch of people that are with the Buddy Walk. I think the main thing that drives us to do it is just seeing the faces of the kids or the adults that are with FRIENDS.”
“This particular year was tough, and they just came through to us,” organizer Allison Mains said. “Buddy Walk last month was tough for several reasons. We got a pandemic going on, this is an outdoors function, but we didn’t know how many people to expect. We figured it would be low, so our morale was low. Half of our board was unavailable, so we were at half staff. They helped set up Friday night, and then a storm came through and blew it all down. When everyone arrived, all the tents were down; stuff was broken. We cannot do this event without them because those tents are heavy and we have a dozen of them. They help set them up, and there’s just no way we could do it,” Mains said.
“Our philanthropy chair, Cole Knight ’22, got a call a few weeks before the event. He dove into it because with COVID and everything going on; it was hard to find people who wanted to volunteer,” Lopez said. “Coming into that day, the morale was low aside from people not showing up, but it was stormy that day. We had to put our big boy pants on and get it done the best way possible.”
The chapter rose to the occasion and was more than helpful at the event. Buddy Walk was established in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society. This year, Houston Vandergriff was the Grand Marshal of the event. Houston is a travel photographer based in Knoxville, Tenn. You can see his work and learn more about him here.
“They went above and beyond with their assistance. There were lots of moving of tents, chairs, and tables throughout the duration of the day due to weather. They displayed positive and uplifting attitudes to the board members and event participants. As the rain was pouring down, we were holding the legs of the tents down so they would not blow away and as we were watching other tents blow away, every inch of us getting soaked by the rain, I became overwhelmed and began to tear up. One member looked at me and said, ‘You can laugh or cry but I’d rather you laugh,’ and when seeing what I was looking at the tents being destroyed he said, ‘Don’t you worry about that we will take care of that when this is all over,’ and they did. They disposed of the items that were no longer in use. they have taken part of many of our events and have always been wonderful, but this day they went above and beyond and displayed the true meaning of philanthropy.” FRIENDS President Misty Adams
“We just really had to show out that day,” Lopez said. “I want to shout out Cole Knight, Carson Fitzgerald, Sam Frazier, and Austin Roarke, those guys really picked it up. I think newer guys and younger guys within the chapter seeing how older guys step up really boosted the morale not only for our chapter but for everyone who participated.”