By Emily Moon
More than 2,300 student leaders, volunteers and staff from Best Buddies chapters around the world will return to Bloomington for the 27th annual Best Buddies Leadership Conference this weekend at Indiana University.
Best Buddies International helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities build friendships, find jobs and develop leadership skills. According to its website, the organization serves people with Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy, among other conditions.
“We want to help the world understand that these are individuals who have dreams, who have abilities, who have talents and gifts,” said David Quilleon, vice president of global mission, state development and operations for Best Buddies International. “They want what we all want: friends, good paying jobs, opportunities available in their communities.”
To help the campers achieve these goals, student leaders from middle school, high school and college levels will converge on campus for three days of workshops and networking, starting Friday.
Quilleon said the conference is often a formative experience for the students, who will stay in IU residence halls while learning how to better recruit volunteers, foster friendships and raise funds for their chapters.
“This conference and the training we’re doing here really ends up being the catalyst for our chapters,” he said. “We are all working super hard to inspire our students and leaders to bring Best Buddies back to their campus and community.”
This will be the conference’s 15th year at IU.
“We have such an awesome partnership with the university in being able to deliver this training,” Quilleon said. “It’s really allowed Best Buddies to grow and expand. The Bloomington community has been so welcoming.”
This year’s theme is “All For Best Buddies,” and Quilleon said several celebrity guest speakers will reflect on the organization’s mission.
On Sunday, “Real World” creator Jonathan Murray will speak about his experience as executive producer of “Born This Way,” a reality TV show that follows the lives of seven young adults with Down syndrome. Conference-goers also will be treated to a sneak peek of the show’s second season, which premieres Tuesday.
Other highlights include a friendship walk through the IU campus and speeches from Katie Meade, the first model with Down syndrome to be featured as the face of a beauty campaign, friendship expert Shasta Nelson and Best Buddies founder Anthony Shriver.