Best Buddies: Revolutionizing Inclusion

By ABIGAIL RUSSELL

The introduction to “Don’t Stop Believin’” started up for the third time, and an infectious smile appeared on Rachel’s face. She was definitely not getting sick of the song. Everyone on the dance floor joined in on the applause, eagerly awaiting Rachel’s third performance. Before belting out the first line, Rachel dedicated the song to her best friend Hunter. “I love you best friend,” she said. 

It was hard not to smile that night at Colorado College’s Best Buddies Winter Ball. There is beauty in the everyday lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; though perhaps lost on some, it was evident that all participants that night were grateful to be a part of the program.

Photos Courtesy of Colorado College Best Buddies Facebook

An international nonprofit organization, Best Buddies is committed to ending isolation for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Since its founding at Georgetown University in 1987, Best Buddies has grown tremendously. Today, the organization consists of more than 2,000 chapters and spans 50 countries. According to the Best Buddies official mission statement, the organization exists to end “the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The efforts of Best Buddies are not going unrewarded. The impacts of all chapters are far-ranging and deeply felt, and the CC community is no exception.

CC founded its Best Buddies chapter only a few years ago, implementing a one-on-one friendship program, as well as a Higher Visions for Education class that serves the greater Colorado Springs community. So far, the CC program has had a positive impact on the local community as a whole, and has touched the lives of all the individuals involved.

“The time that I spend with my buddy, and the whole club at events, always makes me very happy,” said Polly McNeely ’20, a participant in the CC chapter. “I love looking around and seeing how everyone is really enjoying themselves. I leave reminded of the real goodness and love within people and how important is it to reciprocate that.”

For Daina Beck, Best Buddies plays an important role in the life of her daughter Lindsey, who has Down Syndrome. “I think that Best Buddies promotes inclusion for people with disabilities so that they can be active participants in the broader community and also on campus,” she said. 

For Eric Matthes, a buddy from Seattle with Down syndrome, Best Buddies allows him to make a difference in the world. “I am making a difference through Best Buddies. This is what we do here. We make a difference … one friendship at a time,” he said in an interview posted on the Best Buddies website.

The program is making strides, but they are only beginning to scratch the surface of repairing an age-old system of excluding people with disabilities.

“Historically, the population of people who have IDD has definitely been really marginalized … in that they used to be institutionalized and they didn’t get to go to school and all those kinds of things,” said Will Osier ’20, president of the CC Best Buddies chapter.

Osier believes that Best Buddies gives individuals with IDDs “opportunities that weren’t available in the past.”

Many believe the CC chapter could be doing more to further repair the years of damage that have disadvantaged the community of individuals with IDDs.

“So many of our spaces [here at CC], despite meeting ADA requirements, just reach the bare minimum and are inaccessible to many people with physical disabilities,” McNeely said. She feels that the CC Best Buddies chapter should advocate for these infrastructure changes, as well as raise more awareness about individuals with IDDs and campaign for person-first language. 

Osier finds inspiration in the work being done at other universities; “I know UCCS and other colleges across the country have programs where students who have IDDs come be like actual students on campus, versus just the once a week HVE kind of thing,” he said. “I think that would be a really cool way to kind of make progress on the idea of inclusivity, where we actually have them on campus and they are like official CC students … for me, that would be ideal.”

Beck has a similar opinion: “The scope of what’s being done at CC is kind of limited,” she said. “In other locations, Best Buddies is broader in what they do. They have an employment aspect where they try to help students with disabilities find jobs and also they have an advocacy training.”

Thus far, the national Best Buddies organization has done a lot to end isolation of people with IDDs, and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. 

Best Buddies founder and chairman, Anthony K. Shriver, set out the 2020 initiative, an ambitious project to get Best Buddies in 100 different countries and in all 50 states. The CC chapter could follow in the footsteps of the international office, pushing to do more to help the cause they are so passionate about.  

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