Trinity Hogben ’24 was in seventh grade when she noticed a fellow student sitting by herself in gym. Megan Phelps didn’t talk to anyone in class, and rarely to any other people at school. Megan has autism and was non-verbal at the time, barriers that made it difficult for her to make friends. That was not acceptable to Trinity. 

She crossed the gym and introduced herself to Megan. That friendly hello was the start of a close friendship that has been going strong for almost 10 years. Their partnership and commitment to a great cause has netted a top fundraising award from Best Buddies.

Trinity is the president of Siena’s Best Buddies chapter, and led her Saratoga Springs High School club as well. The international organization seeks to enhance the lives of people with developmental challenges by hosting social events, fostering one-to-one friendships, and pursuing integrated employment opportunities. At Siena, they offer bingo, meals and other getting to know you activities that allow genuine friendships to blossom. Siena students partner with select Shaker High School special education graduates who attend the Transition program here on campus.

“This isn’t a mentoring program,” explained Trinity. “Everyone who takes part in Best Buddies benefits from it.”

Being best friends has helped both Megan and Trinity grow personally.

“We both have come out of our shells and made more connections with other people because of Best Buddies,” she said. “I’ve been able to attend different conferences where I’ve learned leadership and advocacy skills, and we’ve both gotten to meet students from other schools and have grown socially. Megan has taught me to see the fun in everything.” 

Megan calls her buddy “Miss Ducky” and also vouches for the benefits of the program.

“Best Buddies has helped me meet new friends and includes me in things that I would never have been asked to be a part of without Miss Ducky,” she said. “Everyone should have the opportunity to have a Best Buddy in their life. Being included makes me happy.”

With her involvement in Best Buddies and her close friendship with Trinity, Megan has regained her confidence in speaking. She chats with virtually everyone she sees. 

Trinity and Megan are dedicated to giving back to the organization that has played such an important role in their lives. The pair took the Champion of the Year top fundraising prize in Best Buddies’ eastern upstate New York region, one of three regions in the state. Their 12-week campaign raised nearly $10,000 for the non-profit. First up was a bowling and pizza party at the Saratoga Strike Zone with half the proceeds going to Best Buddies. Next was an evening out at the Henry Street Taproom (where Trinity works) where they collected 15 percent of the receipts. Their drive was capped off at Best Buddies’ annual gala on November 3, where some of the live and silent auction items they brought in included a ride-along with the Saratoga Springs Police (who also kicked in a check for $500), a night at the Adelphi Hotel, art pieces and more.  

Trinity noted another benefit to Best Buddies – it breaks down barriers between special needs students and the rest of their school. Special education classrooms usually are segregated, sometimes for sensory and access reasons. That means students from the different tracks rarely to get to meet up, let alone become friends. Both are poorer from the lack of connection.

“It’s a mutually beneficial way to create true, lifelong friendships with great people,” said Trinity. 

What motivates her to reach out to others? 

“The results motivate me,” she said. “I've experienced and witnessed firsthand how essential these friendships and relationships are for both people with and without disabilities. Seeing people expressing their true selves and being accepted exactly the way they are is extremely motivating. If we want this world to be a more inclusive place for all, then we have to start somewhere. I believe that the mission of and the people behind Best Buddies are exactly where that positive change starts.” 

Kris Royce and Heather Hanrahan have worked with Trinity for the past three years, both as co-directors of Siena’s Transition program and advisors for the College’s Best Buddies chapter. 

“Trinity has a genuine passion for including students with disabilities,” said Royce. “Her dedication to Best Buddies and students in the Siena Transition program is admirable. She goes out of her way to initiate conversations and activities with everyone whom she comes in contact with. She is a true Siena Saint!”   

David Liebschutz, J.D., visiting assistant professor of business, had Trinity as a student in his 

introductory macroeconomics class last spring.  

“She was absolutely terrific. Despite not being a business major, she was one of the best students in the class with her positive attitude and high level of engagement,” Liebschutz said. “I can see why she is a real leader in the Best Buddies program.”

Interested in becoming part of Siena’s Best Buddies chapter? Reach out to Trinity at tl19hogb@siena.edu.