Best Buddies is a global nonprofit organization that was founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in 1988 when he was a student at Georgetown University. Anthony had a close relationship with his aunt, Rosemary Kennedy, who had an intellectual and developmental disability (IDD). He wanted to honor her by creating a friendship program for kids with IDD. He asked his classmates at Georgetown to join the club and they were paired with a child with IDD to hang out and do fun things that friends do together – see a movie or get something to eat. People with IDD at that time were socially isolated, and this was an injustice that Anthony wanted to end.
Today, Best Buddies programs are in all 50 states and in more than 50 countries. They have three primary programs: One-to-One Friendships from middle-school aged kids to adults, Leadership Development for students who run the school friendship programs and for people adults with IDD, and the Jobs Program, which works with employers to place people with IDD in integrated roles in companies. They host a global leadership conference each year at Indiana University where 2,000 chapter leaders, advisory board members, and global ambassadors from around the globe gather and learn how to move the mission of Best Buddies forward.
The unemployment / underemployment rate for adults with IDD is 85%. Best Buddies is working to lower this statistic by working with employers to demonstrate the value of having employees with IDD work in their companies. They have also been preparing people with IDD to interview for jobs, and Best Buddies has job coaches that work with each job participant to make sure they have the tools and resources they need to perform the job tasks.
Best Buddies raises money through local community friendship walks, bike ride challenges in Hyannis Port, Hearst Castle, and Miami, and local galas and receptions. They also obtain state and federal grants for their programs. An impressive 84% of every dollar donated goes to fund their programs.
There are many ways to get involved with Best Buddies. If you work at a school or have a child that attends middle school though college, you can start a friendship chapter. If you like to walk or bike ride, attend a friendship or a bike challenge and help raise money for the cause. If you work at a company who has goals and objectives related to diversity and inclusion, you can help us get connected with human resources to hire people with IDD. If you know someone with IDD, perhaps you can encourage them to be involved with the programs.
It is the ultimate goal of Best Buddies to not be needed in our society. For that to happen, inclusion for people with disabilities needs to be part of our culture. There is a lot of work to do in the area of ability diversity and inclusion!