"Your friends help you develop your true self and define the person you become," said Mike Pearson, Deputy Director of Programs at Best Buddies International, who expressed that the most powerful ideology of the program lies within the simplistic and intuitive elements of forming close bonds with others: forming mutually enriching and long lasting friendships.
Growing up, Anthony K. Shriver was exposed to the disability movement on behalf of his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a key founder of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and an advocate for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). During his college years at Georgetown University, this awareness led Shriver to establish an organization on campus dedicated to creating opportunities for those with IDD to make one-to-one connections. Best Buddies matches one person with IDD with one person without a disability, and then helps foster their friendship.
Shriver's college chapter was the catalyst for the foundation of Best Buddies International, which now serves buddies in middle schools, high schools, colleges, communities, and online, and is dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that fosters friendships, integrated employment and leadership development.
Best Buddies on college campuses empowers students to launch and manage their own campus chapter, and support and equip other peer leaders with tools and resources to advocate on behalf of the disability movement.
All students are trained to conduct daily operations, recruit officers, faculty support, and create buddy matches based on shared interests. "On one level, success for Best Buddies College chapter is measured by how little staff time is needed," said Pearson.
One of the greatest obstacles for those with IDD is lack of opportunity to participate in social activities. Best Buddies Colleges opens doors to make social engagements possible. Both Pearson and his buddy are self-proclaimed "foodies," they love dining out, going bowling and to the movies. Other buddies have enjoyed outings at the beach, reading at the library, or doing community service at local parks. Students commit to communicating weekly with their buddy via phone, text message, email, or Facebook and meet in person twice a month. While the program has a significant impact on enhancing social skills related to etiquette and competence, Pearson notes that forming a strong relationship is paramount—the byproduct of a mutually-enriching friendship is that lives are improved.
Best Buddies does not strictly benefit people with IDD. A reciprocal impact of the program is helping people without diasabilities develop a deeper understanding of diversity: "Community perceptions have been transformed by students creating awareness about the value of acceptance, respect, and inclusion of those with IDD," says Pearson. Community and cultural change are lofty goals, and ones that take a long time, but by focusing on the relatively simple task of forming strong friendships, Best Buddies participants have become agents of change.
Currently, Best Buddies Colleges is active on more than 425 campuses worldwide. "This is not a mentoring program—hierarchy is non-existent—the program is a simple, intuitive, powerful act of friendship."
On July 20-23, the 23rd Annual Best Buddies International Leadership Conference will take place on the campus of Indiana University focused on training Best Buddies leaders with a powerful balance of education, empowerment, and simply having fun.
For more information on Best Buddies Colleges, please contact:
Mike Pearson, Deputy Director-Programs
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