UNE students volunteer for inclusive PALS camp on Biddeford Campus

UNE social work student Leigh Rohe poses with their PALS Peer Mary Borman.
UNE social work student Leigh Rohe, right, poses with their PALS Peer Mary Borman.

The University of New England recently hosted PALS Maine for its annual week-long camp, which brought together 20 young people with Down syndrome and volunteers from across the country on the Biddeford Campus from July 24 to July 30.

PALS Programs creates inclusive camp experiences for people with and without Down syndrome. Founded in Philadelphia in 2004, PALS designs programs for participants to experience radical inclusion while forming lifelong friendships.

Throughout the week, “Partners” with Down syndrome were paired with “Peers” without Down syndrome for a series of events, including a carnival, a field trip to SailMaine, and the PALS Olympics held on the Biddeford Campus.

UNE students Hannah LoVerdi (Health, Wellness, and Occupational Studies, ’25) and Leigh Rohe (Social Work, ’25) volunteered to be Peers for the week. They said the experience was rewarding and valuable as health professions students.

“My goal is to become a guidance counselor, so this is great experience,” Rohe said. “Being here and learning about the Down syndrome community and interacting with people has taught me about working with people of all abilities.”

LoVerdi, president of Best Buddies at UNE — a similar program that pairs UNE students with area students with intellectual disabilities — said the week prepared her for her future work as an occupational therapist.

“Many people with intellectual disabilities also see occupational therapists,” LoVerdi explained. “Volunteering with PALS is a great opportunity to broaden my horizons and just make sure everyone has a friend and has someone to hang out with.”

LoVerdi works with Partners before the Olympics

Participants ready themselves for the Olympics

A PALS Partner makes a sign for his team