EV! student leader Emma Greenberg creating an inclusive environment at Elon

Through Elon Volunteers!, Emma Greenberg '20 has been a leader on Elon's campus. She has turned her sixth-grade passion into action, through her involvement with both Elon Buddies and Special Olympics.

Elon Volunteers!, the university’s largest student service organization, works with more than 100 student leaders who coordinate several programs across campus. One of those student leaders is political science major Emma Greenberg ’20.

Greenberg’s story began in the sixth grade, where she was involved in the Best Buddies program. Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for friendship and leadership development for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Greenberg was the president of her high school’s chapter of Best Buddies for three years before interning with the national organization for two years in New York.

“I came to Elon specifically looking for that, for this type of work and involvement, so I joined Elon Buddies during my freshman year at Elon,” Greenberg said.

Falling under the umbrella of Elon Volunteers!, Elon Buddies pairs students and volunteers from Elon with Alamance Community College students with developmental disabilities. Elon Buddies hosts a variety of activities such as prom, Zumba classes and movie nights throughout the year. Greenberg currently serves as co-coordinator of the program.

“We really plan activities to create that space of inclusion and to just treat people as they should be treated no matter what,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg first applied for the Elon Buddies coordinator position during her sophomore year and has served in that role since. At the same time, she was on the lead team for Elon Special Olympics and has been the organization’s coordinator since last fall.

Special Olympics is similar to Elon Buddies in that it also focuses on creating an inclusive environment for everyone. However, Special Olympics creates inclusive environments for students with developmental disabilities through the use of intramural sports and other athletic opportunities.

“Our main event for Special Olympics is Spring Games,” Greenberg said. “My sophomore year we had almost 200 people attend with both athletes and volunteers. We took over the entire football field. It’s a huge annual event with track and field activities, including throwing, jumping, etc. It’s really amazing. It’s a super inclusive day, and everybody gets to come out and have fun and partake in that.”

Greenberg has always had a passion for this type of work because she believes people with disabilities are often overlooked. It’s something that has always baffled her. It’s something that she has always wanted to do something about. This is what originally brought her to the Best Buddies program in sixth grade and is what led her to continue that work at Elon.

“Why do we treat people differently because of small differences? My thing is that you always focus on the abilities of the people, not their disabilities,” Greenberg said. “It’s just amazing to see what people can do when you give them a shot and believe in them.”

Greenberg has seen firsthand how organizations like Elon Buddies and Special Olympics can have a direct impact on people’s lives. She says she was especially touched by what she saw from a group of high school students who volunteered at a past Special Olympics event.

“There was a point in the event where [the high school students] became very enthusiastic toward the athletes, cheering them on and screaming for them at the top of their lungs,” Greenberg said. “They went from standing in the corner with their arms crossed, unhappy that they had to wake up early on a Friday, to really getting involved, giving athletes piggyback rides and dancing with them in the field. Seeing that, seeing everybody come together, putting aside their differences and being there for each other… I think that’s really what it’s about at the end of the day.”

Greenberg’s passion shows in her work for both Special Olympics and Elon Buddies. As a student leader for Elon Buddies, Greenberg plans meetings and events, reserves rooms and vans to pick up students from Alamance Community College, sets up the planned activities, coordinates volunteers and completes other administrative work for the organization. For Special Olympics, she is responsible for making Elon students aware of volunteer opportunities, recruiting volunteers, sending emails and making sure each event runs smoothly.

“I think many people at Elon don’t know we’re out here doing all of this volunteer work that we do,” Greenberg said. “It’s such a hidden gem on campus. If this is something students are interested in, they just have to look into EV! organizations and see what they have to offer.”

For students interested in getting involved in any of the EV! organizations, visit the Elon Volunteers! website, stop by Moseley Center 230 or contact the Kernodle Center. Those who are interested in Elon Buddies or Special Olympics should email either elonbuddies@elon.edu or elonspecialolympics@elon.edu for more information about how to get involved.