“Can you imagine life without a friend? I can, because Best Buddies was not available in Indiana when I was in school. I had a supportive family but I missed having someone in school to say ‘hi’ to in the halls, to sit with at lunch, to talk to about my day, and to make plans with for social activities.”
These are the words of Katie, a woman with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who joined the Best Buddies College program in Indiana in 1993. “My life changed when I experienced the gift of having someone, my own age, to talk to and to call my friend,” she says on BestBuddies.org.
Opening opportunities through deeper one-to-one connections
In the U.S., an estimated one in 100 people have some form of intellectual or developmental disability. (Source: AmericanPsychiatricAssociation.org). That’s a significant portion of our society dealing with learning and problem solving challenges, along with daily life obstacles like communication and independent living.
People with I/DD often face limited opportunities and isolation … in school, at work and in social settings. While government programs offer some assistance, that alone can’t open new doors and improve access to a fulfilled life.
Enter Best Buddies International, the nonprofit founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver. More than 30 years later, the organization has grown into a global volunteer movement, with a mission to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for people with I/DD.
"As the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical, and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the work we do at Best Buddies is incredibly important and life-changing for many," said Shriver, Founder & Chairman, Best Buddies International.
"In many cases, as a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships."
With 512 college chapters in the United States alone, the Best Buddies college program has helped forge important friendships between thousands of college age adults. Those friendships can be a lifeline for adults with I/DD making the challenging transition from high school to post-high school education.
Of course, Best Buddies doesn’t start with college-age adults. Programs are thriving in elementary, middle and high schools, and in the larger community through their Citizen’s programs.
In 2014, knowing she would age out of the college program, Katie joined the Citizens program and was paired with Tiffany. They talk on the phone every week, plan fun ideas for getting together, and even set a date for a “girls weekend.”
“Tiffany is showing me how to rise to meet every opportunity and to always reach for the stars,” Katie says.
The four pillars of Best Buddies
For many families, their first exposure to Best Buddies is in the classroom through the Friendship program at school, where friendships between people with and without I/DD are built. Many of these matches persist past school and turn into life-long friendships.
And if the original match doesn’t continue, for whatever reason, the program is designed to create new matches in different life stages, with their programs for high-schoolers, college-age buddies, and adult matches.
The Best Buddies programs don’t stop at creating friendship. The organization is dedicated to empower people with I/DD by focusing on their four mission pillars: Friends, Integrated Employment, Leadership Development, and Inclusive Living.
True inclusion for people with I/DD happens one friendship, one mentorship, one job, one connection at a time. The Best Buddies programs empower the special abilities of people with I/DD by helping them form meaningful friendships, secure successful jobs, live independently, and feel truly valued for their contributions.
For more information about Best Buddies, please visit bestbuddies.org.