Two-by-Two Impact: Best Buddies
Founding a Best Buddies International chapter was an incredible learning
experience. The journey introduced me to organizations outside and
within my high school, challenged my organizational and leadership
skills, and taught me how to address the needs of people with
intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Before starting
this club, I spent an average of 25 hours per month volunteering at a
variety of places (church, Special Olympics, children’s hospital,
wood workers charity crafts, etc.) but I never felt the focused
impact as I feel with my 4-8 hours per week with Best Buddies.
This summer, I met with our county’s department for developmental
disabilities to ask about volunteer work relevant my future career as
an occupational therapist. My initial goal was to learn about their
clients and to find a way to do more than just help with activities.
As a result of that meeting, I learned about Best Buddies
International and became excited about starting our own chapter. My
new goal is to advance the mission of Best Buddies which is
“dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of
people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Starting a chapter within an established organization is not as easy as it
sounds. In addition to recruiting members and providing
peer-leadership, my organizational skills were challenged in
coordinating the work of seven professionals in three organizations:
The Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Best
Buddies Ohio, and my high school. I learned that confirming dates and
sending out calendar invitations is critical to coordinate meetings
for these busy people. Perhaps my most valuable leadership lessons
occurred while simply watching these professionals interact, however.
It was fascinating to hear them negotiate and persuade each other and
I was proud to find myself sounding like them when I approached Ms.
Peirano with a request for funding. As I grew in confidence, I asked
questions which took my mentors by surprise and I became an equal
contributor in our meetings.
From my mentors, I learned about the needs of IDD students, including how
to consider the health and safety of everyone involved. For example,
when writing an email to parents of IDD students, I thought about how
I could help parents to feel comfortable enrolling their vulnerable
children in this program. Also, I knew I wanted this club to continue
after I graduate, so I selected a junior to be vice president.
In addition to enhancing individual lives, I am most proud that our
chapter will have a longer-term impact of inclusion for people with
intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). We are educating
young people about the needs of their IDD peers and are helping them
become more comfortable with this population. As we interact in the
community, others will become accustomed to seeing us interact. With
this type of exposure, IDD people will be less apt to be bullied and
more apt to have lifetime friends and advocates in the community.