How senior Jennifer Kicak pursues her lifetime passion
The best of buddies
Jennifer Kicak (left) with Megan Penman, one of the buddies involved with the University's Best Buddies chapter at their annual Bowling event hosted at Devon Lanes.
For Nursing senior Jennifer Kicak of Berwyn, Pa., inspiration came quickly in freshman year when she participated in Villanova’s Special Olympics Fall Festival as a local program host. “I fell in love with all the athletes and I knew that I wanted to continue serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) on a more regular basis,” recalls Jennifer. She contacted the president of Villanova’s Best Buddies chapter and relayed her passion and desire to get involved. Now she leads that chapter.
Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to a global volunteer movement creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant, international organization that has grown to almost 1,500 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Their endeavors positively impact nearly 700,000 individuals with and without disabilities worldwide.
Jennifer not only participated in events but also assumed leadership roles as a sophomore membership coordinator and a junior activities coordinator, before becoming president. She explains the activities, “We typically run about three or four events a semester for our members and buddies. Some of the events include apple picking, a Christmas party, pizza party, bowling and kickball. These events are a great way for all our members and buddies to get together and have some fun either on or off campus.” She also has individual activities with buddies. “I have had lunch with many of our buddies and even have had one of the buddies come over to watch the show ‘The Bachelor’ with me, since we both found out we shared that guilty pleasure. It’s really about creating this one-to-one friendship, which is what Best Buddies is all about,” she notes.
The chapter worked hard to achieve success when several years ago it switched over to a new group of buddies, many of whom are affiliated with nearby Melmark, an organization with educational and other programming for people with IDD. Buddies and college members worked together, and with parental input, discovered each person’s needs and the best pairings. Friendships blossomed. Jennifer’s roles were vital to the process with her responsibilities including working with college members through running meetings and events, checking in on progress of buddy pairs, as well as communicating with parents.
“Through my experience with this organization, I have learned how passion and joy can help you achieve anything. After speaking with parents during our events, I have found that they hold an utmost appreciation for our college students. They and their children are so thankful for the opportunity to be part of the Villanova Community through Best Buddies,” Jennifer offers. It brought her insights into leadership. She says, “The joy that I have witnessed on our buddies faces at every event is what initially sparked my interest in becoming a leader in this organization. I learned that when you are passionate about something, you are able to achieve success and that being a leader is about allowing this joy and passion to help you lead.”
While she is delighted to be graduating and launching her career on the Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant unit at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where she was a nurse extern last summer, she is just as certain she will continue to be involved with people with IDD. “I haven’t decided exactly in what way, whether it is continuing with Best Buddies on an advisory board or getting involved in the Trisomy 21 Program at CHOP, but,” Jennifer affirms, “I know as nurse I will find some way to continue to work with this population throughout my career.”