Not too long ago, it was rare to seea person with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in school, at ajob or making a difference in their community. However, because of Best BuddiesInternational, a movement to create social equality among those with andwithout IDD, a great part of society has changed their views about people withdisabilities. In just 23 years, Best Buddies has made an impact on nearly700,000 individuals with IDD, not to mention all of the citizens, collegestudents, high schoolers and middle school students who have found some oftheir best friends through this program.
Best Buddies was founded in 1989 byAnthony Kennedy Shriver, a Georgetown University alumnus, to encouragefriendships between individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. Today,Shriver is still the chairman of Best Buddies, and continues to support theirmission “to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunitiesfor one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership developmentfor people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
The Best Buddies goal as of 2011 isto implement the 2020 Initiative – a goal “to make Best Buddies a householdname.” To do this, Best Buddies isstriving to open offices in all 50 states, expand the program to a total of 100countries, impact three million people with and without IDD, train 4,000 BuddyAmbassadors, create 1,000 jobs for people with IDD around the world andincrease the number of school-based chapters to 2,500.
The Maryland and Virginia (alongside19 other states) Best Buddies’ state programs are helping the Best Buddiesmission become a reality. Both Best Buddies offices have been involved in theD.C., Maryland and Virginia communities before the new 2020 Initiative launched,and they are still making steps to make their programs the best they can be.
Best Buddies International, as well as theMaryland and Virginia state offices, implement several programs: Best BuddiesMiddle Schools, Best Buddies High Schools, Best Buddies Colleges, Best BuddiesCitizens, e-Buddies, Best BuddiesJobs and Best Buddies Ambassadors. There are 20 middle schools, 54 high schoolsand 12 colleges and universities managed by the Maryland office. Virginia also manages programs in theDistrict of Columbia and has eight middle schools, 19 high schools and ten collegechapters participating in the Best Buddies movement for equality.
More and more schools want to becomeinvolved in the Best Buddies program, but because Best Buddies is a non-profitorganization, funding is a necessity for creating new middle school, highschool and college chapters. Schools that are already a part of Best Buddies continuallyfundraise to keep current program support so that more schools will be able to startchapters and spread the word about Best Buddies’ mission.
Both the Maryland and Virginia BestBuddies’ programs value their school chapters. They see the impact thatfriendship has on students of all ages, and they can see how the schoolprograms have truly changed people’s lives. The friendships created betweenthose with and without disabilities promote acceptance and social inclusion forpeople with disabilities who may be left out of the loop during their schoolyears.
The school chapters are also some ofthe larger fundraising forces and voices of Best Buddies. From holding eventsas small as bake sales and potluck dinners to creating Valentine’s Day Dancesfor students of all abilities, schools and colleges are making a positivedifference on their campuses and in their communities.
Best Buddies Citizens is anotherprogram offered by Best Buddies International and the Maryland and Virginia offices.In this program, adults in local communities are paired with people with IDD.The Peer Buddy (who does not have a disability) is required to contact his/her Buddyonce a week and at least twice a month, but as many have come to find, it ishard to only stick with the minimum requirements – people go above and beyondthe requirements because they want to spend more time with their new-foundfriends.
Best Buddies Jobs is a program thatintegrates those with IDD into their community through the workplace. Sincethis program has begun, more than 500 individuals have experience in theemployment process. This program offers the opportunity for people to obtainand maintain a job that they’ll be happy with, receive training, earn anincome, pay taxes and best of all, be an integral part of their community.
Best Buddies also has the Best BuddyAmbassador program to help advocate that people with IDD are “active agents ofchange” wherever they go. This program educates people with IDD to becomeleaders with a voice in their schools, jobs and communities, and it is the nextstep in the Disability Rights Movement to educate people how to self-advocate.
Aside from Best Buddies’ ongoingprograms, they host events across the country. The Maryland and Virginia BestBuddies come together for the Audi BestBuddies Challenge. This is an international Challenge that is hosted in cities all over the United States, andon October 20, 2012, the event will be held in Washington, D.C. Participantscan select from a 100K or 20 mile bike ride or a 5K run/walk led by Olympicgold medalist, Carl Lewis. For each distance, participants will be able to bikeor run/walk around the capital of the United States and view all of thehistorical monuments. Afterward, there will be professional massages and aluncheon with musical performances.
March is also “Spread the Word to Endthe Word” month for Best Buddies. On March 7, Best Buddies students fromcampuses worldwide will campaign along with Special Olympics to end the use ofthe word “retard(ed).” This word is found to be hurtful and insensitive, andBest Buddies and Special Olympics are trying to stop its everyday use.
Maryland and Virginia host separate Best Buddies Friendship Walks in theirown communities. There will be a BestBuddies Friendship Walk in Baltimore on May 5, 2012. It will be held at theRitchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland, College Park, and anyone cansign up, volunteer, sponsor a walker/runner or make a donation. Virginia alsohosts a Best Buddies Friendship Walkevery spring.
Best Buddies Virginia also hosts anannual Life Is Sweet event. At thisevent, top chefs in the D.C. area are paired with a Buddy and they present adish – usually a dessert to go along with the theme—and while cooking away, thechefs and Buddies develop a friendship.
The most rewarding part of being a partof the movement is that Best Buddies can help people see how people with IDD canhave a place in society and be viewed as equals.. They can see this change ontelevision shows, in movies, books and social media, and there is hope thatsomeday, Best Buddies won’t have to be around. Best Buddies hopes to someday nolonger have a need to spread the message of social inclusion and equality forpeople with disabilities. To Best Buddies, people are people, and everyonedeserves a friend to stand by them through the ups and downs of life.
RyanWeisser is an intern for FAMILYMagazine and a senior Communication major at George Mason University. Shewrites a relationship column for her university’s newspaper, Broadside, as well as other campus-related stories.