Best Buddies: Developing Friendships and Teaching Us to See
What would your life be like if you had no friends? … None at all … Think about it.
Many, many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find it extremely difficult to make and hold onto friends. They are often lonely, discouraged, disempowered and under-utilized.
I am the host site coordinator for the Connecticut College Best Buddies Chapter, a college close to the Groton campus. Best Buddies® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
As a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with IDD secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships. Best Buddies currently is a young organization and doesn’t have the name recognition that Special Olympics enjoys, but both organizations serve the community of people with IDD and complement each other. Many people participate in both Special Olympics and Best Buddy activities.
As the host-site coordinator, I work to bring together the clients of the Groton Special Recreation/ Special Olympics organization with Connecticut College students who want to become peer buddies. The buddies and peer buddies (the college students) have contact at least once a week (could be just a phone call or text message) and target to go out together twice a month for a meal, movie, a hike, sporting event or chapter-led events (like the Connecticut Friendship walk that is scheduled for November 8).
I work directly with the Connecticut College student officers and have helped them more effectively communicate and plan events. This year the Chapter will hold a state-wide “Special Athletes” day at Connecticut College in December. I also serve as a resource to the caregivers of the buddies by facilitating the exchange of information and addressing concerns.
I have found that the Connecticut College peer buddies benefit from interactions with their buddy as much as the buddy – it’s a real win/win. This relationship not only improves the life of people with IDD but helps develop leadership skills for these college students. I’ve also noticed that while forming and nurturing one-to-one friendships (the main deliverable of Best Buddies), the exposure the peer buddies have with their buddies starts to let them see beyond the IDD person’s veneer and to start to see the real person. They see (for example) another Patriots fan, an artist, a jokester, an athlete … a friend. As more and more people discover what the community of IDD individuals actually can offer, society can better leverage their talents and skills and we all will benefit.