By Guest Blogger Kelly Wagner, State Director, Best Buddies Florida
Best Buddies is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) by creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships, leadership development and integrated employment opportunities. Best Buddies serves an increasingly important function since people with IDD often have difficulty integrating into social environments at school or in the workplace. Through our unique friendship programs, people with IDD form true, mutually-beneficial friendships that can last a lifetime. By pairing students in our schools with a fellow student who has an IDD, the lives of both students and all of the people around them, are forever changed in the most positive ways.
Currently, Best Buddies has close to 60,000 students in the US participating in our one-to-one friendship programs. Randy, a young man with Down syndrome, is a Best Buddies participant whose life is positively impacted by the school-based friendship program. Almost two years ago Randy was apprehensive about beginning high school. Although apprehensive as well, Randy’s mom Nina, was looking forward to High School because she knew there were great opportunities there for Randy including a strong best buddies friendship program. Randy’s first year in best buddies was great and he loved it. This year Randy was paired with a new peer buddy, Ashley. They eat lunch together, go to after-school events, and enjoy the opportunity to simply hang out.
Ashley recently spoke to a large group about her friendship with Randy and said admiringly, “Randy is the most popular guy at our school…he has more friends than anyone. There is not a person at our school who doesn’t know Randy or say hi to him in the halls. He even runs out on the floor with the basketball team at every home game. He is so cool!” Both Randy and Ashley say they have had a wonderful year together; but Ashley is quick to point out that while she joined Best Buddies to make a difference in somebody else’s life, the positive difference that has been made in her life is immeasurable. Ashley says that because of her friendship with Randy, she now understands the “true meaning” of friendship.
While the story of Randy and Ashley is repeated every day all across the world, the next area of focus for Best Buddies is to grow the Jobs Program, bringing inclusion to companies around the globe. The goal is to work with students who have had great experience in the school-based programs by empowering them to move into a society that celebrates and welcomes integrated employment.
The Ruderman Family Foundation generously partnered with Best Buddies to support integrated employment in South Florida for Jewish participants with IDD. Best Buddies Florida’s employment consultant works within the Jewish community to identify, recruit, train and coach participants with IDD in all types of employment. As Randy’s mom recently shared with the founder of Best Buddies, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, her goal is for Randy to become a viable, self-sustaining, employed adult. As an attorney, she says that her greatest success in life will be when she, as a parent, helps her son prepare his first tax return!
– Kelly Wagner