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C-N's Williams named Best Buddies Chapter President of the Year for Tenn.

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Carson-Newman University’s Kayla Williams hangs out with her buddy Don. Williams was recently named Tennessee’s 2014 Most Outstanding Chapter President for Best Buddies.

Carson-Newman University’s Kayla Williams hangs out with her buddy Don. Williams was recently named Tennessee’s 2014 Most Outstanding Chapter President for Best Buddies.

(April 24, 2014)– Just one year after its chapter was named State Chapter of the Year, Carson-Newman’s Best Buddies president, Kayla Williams, has been named Tennessee’s 2014 Most Outstanding Chapter President for Best Buddies. The announcement came during an April Best Buddies event held in Nashville.

Best Buddies is an international organization dedicated to creating one-on-one relationships between students and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Williams, a senior at Carson-Newman, is the first recipient of the newly created accolade recognizing student-presidents serving with Best Buddies in Tennessee.

It is Carson-Newman’s chapter that Williams has helped lead over the past year, and one she has been a part of since her sophomore year.

A Mount Carmel, Tenn., resident, Williams was first drawn to the program during an event called “Buddy Idol.” Modeled after the TV hit “American Idol,” the campus event allows buddies in the program to perform before a crowd of peers and supporters.

“It was right after my freshman year when I saw Buddy Idol that I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of this program,” recalled Williams. That evening was more than just a campus event for the fledgling college student– it was the catalyst for an unforgettable friendship. “I actually saw my buddy Don up on stage and was like ‘he’s going to be my buddy.’ It was my mission to talk to him and hang out with him.”

Over the next three years, a special relationship developed. “He loves to go out and eat,” shared Williams, who would oblige her friend and take him to area restaurants. “He loves the Meat Lover’s pizza at Pizza Hut.” From phone calls and trips to just hanging out, the two truly became buddies.

Williams says her time with Best Buddies has helped her know how to act around people with disabilities. “I didn’t know whether I should treat them just like everyone else, or if I should treat them a little bit differently. And what I’ve learned over the past three years is that you can treat them just like you treat your best friend.”

The future of Carson-Newman’s Best Buddies chapter is bright according to Williams, who is quick to credit her fellow students and organizers. “One thing I have learned is that it is very easy to lead an awesome group of people,” laughed Williams. “It is not hard at all.”

There may be a little more to it than that, according to Dr. Kim Hawkins, faculty advisor of the chapter.

“Kayla Williams has been an outstanding president; I cannot say enough good things about her,” champions Hawkins. “She is forward thinking in that whatever is being done, she is sure to include members who will be around after she graduates so that they can learn from the processes.”

The outgoing president says the University’s organization has enjoyed great membership, garnering the involvement of some 30 students. And that number may grow. “Even since January, there have been several students who have messaged us and said ‘hey what is Best Buddies, and can I be involved in it?’”

She doesn’t hesitate when asked what she will miss most about Best Buddies. “I’m going to miss my buddy,” said the emotional senior. “I am going to miss him more than anything.” Williams explains that her buddy Don has already been introduced to his new Carson-Newman student-buddy, a process put in place as students graduate.

“He’s going to have an awesome buddy next year. We’ve already got him all set up. He calls me his ‘old’ buddy now,” she laughed. “But I told him, ‘once a buddy, always a buddy. And I will always be there for you no matter what.’”

The two friends are already planning their friendship post-graduation.

“He’s going to be in my wedding in May,” smiled Williams. “He told me that he was going to be my best man.”

With her college days almost behind her, Williams reflects fondly on her time with the University’s chapter. “It’s something I will always remember,” she shares. “When I think back on my time at Carson-Newman, it’s something I’m going to hold really close to my heart.”

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