For the past five years, a group at Miami University has been making music. But the group’s sound takes a back seat to its mission, which is to help those with developmental disabilities foster positive relationships in the community.
The Best Buddies Friends Choir was started five years ago by Tanner McClellan, a 2016 graduate who wanted to combine her own interest in music and social activism to help create something special.
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So in March of 2013, McClellan, who was part of an a capella group called Just Duet, took the next step and formed the choir, which is affiliated with the Miami chapter of Best Buddies, an international nonprofit dedicated to creating opportunities for college students to have one-to-one friendships with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“I was in an a capella group in Miami and I wanted to combine those two passions of mine,” McClellan said. “I wanted to do it in a way that would allow us to raise awareness for inclusivity for people with developmental disabilities.”
The effort resulted in an annual concert that coincides with Best Buddies Awareness Month, according to Alyson Yawitz, the choir’s current president and a junior at the school. This year’s concert will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday in Hall Auditorium and is free of charge.
“This is our fourth annual awareness concert and we focus on the mission ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ - ending the use of the word ‘retarded’ in everyday language,” Yawitz, who has been in choir since her freshman year, explained. “We combine forces with Miami’s student a capella groups. This year, we invited a professional a capella group who will be joining us from Miami, Florida called reVoiced. They have done with work Best Buddies International.”
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She added, “five of Miami’s a capella groups are performing with us. They have all participated in previous concerts.”
Yawitz said the Best Buddies Choir helps foster friendships between college students and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities.
“Our choir has members of all ages and abilities. Best Buddies Friends Choir is like a family,” she said. “The members brighten my week, and I look forward to our rehearsals all week long.”
Even the rehearsal bring a smile to her face.
“Everyone is an equal in choir. Once you’re a member, you join the family. Our rehearsals are a balance of working hard and having fun. We always save time for a dance party at the end of rehearsal,” Yawitz said.
For McClellan, it is a joy to see what she created end up in good hands.
“I am so thrilled that this tradition has continued,” she said. “For four years I put my whole heart into this project and this organization and it’s very humbling that it has been able to continue as it has.”
McClellan is also looking forward to attending Monday’s concert and enjoying the performance as a fan.
“I am really looking forward to going. I am in grad school in Dayton studying Occupational Therapy so I’m just about an hour away,” she said. “Alyson has done an amazing job and is so passionate about it and will do a great job with the concert.”
Connie Mehlman, advocacy coordinator for the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities who is the host site coordinator for the Best Buddies chapter at Miami, said the Best Buddies Choir and chapter membership is a special thing to have at Miami.
“The group is two-fold at Miami. We have been part of the national chapter at Miami since 2004 and the choir is still going strong after starting five years ago,” she said. “This year’s annual awareness concert it probably going to be the largest one we’ve had so far.”
Mehlman said that the community has been really supportive of the choir and as information spreads about the group’s mission the interest has grown.
WHAT: The Best Buddies Friends Choir annual concert
WHEN: From 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, March 5.
WHERE: Hall Auditorium on the campus of Miami University
COST: Free of charge
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