Bloomington, IN (July 27, 2017) – Over 2,200 student leaders, volunteers, and staff members from Best Buddies International’s programs around the world participated in the 28TH Annual Best Buddies International Leadership Conference: Pass the Torch July 21-24 at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The weekend offered attendees innovative new ideas to share with their local communities, inspiring speeches, networking opportunities, and most importantly: lasting friendships.
Best Buddies is a nonprofit 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).
This year’s conference was themed Pass the Torch which emphasized the importance of preparing and empowering the future leaders and advocates of the world with the skills and knowledge to move the mission of equality forward. The conference celebrated the incredible impact volunteers with and without IDD have made in the world as a result of their leadership. Attendees received lessons from global leaders in the disability rights movement; watched inspiring performances; witnessed moving testimonies; and attended compelling and empowering educational sessions.
The conference brought together student leaders from Best Buddies middle schools, high schools, colleges and promoter chapters from around the globe; and featured a fantastic conference opening performance from Best Buddies participant Lisa Smith, who performed a sign-language rendition of Shakira’s “Try Everything.”
Best Buddies International Founder and Chairman Anthony K. Shriver, spoke about the Best Buddies’ mission and its connection to this year’s conference theme to an energetic and passionate crowd. He explained how Pass the Torch is meant to prepare and empower the emerging leaders of the disabilities rights community and create powerful self-advocates. Shriver also drew parallels between the Best Buddies organization and President John F. Kennedy, who “wanted to unite all of humanity.”
Shriver then honored Best Buddies Board of Directors member Kellie Howard with the Spirit of Courage Award, which is presented to an outstanding Best Buddies Ambassador on behalf of their work to further the Best Buddies mission of empowering and advocating for those within the IDD community.
Some memorable moments from the conference include an emotional and inspiring speech from Born This Way star Megan Bomgaars; a moving classical ballet performance by Mikayla Holmgren, who is a contender for the Miss Minnesota title; a riveting show by the musical group ReVoiced who performed several classic hits; and Alex and Ani representative Theresa Block announced that through the relationship between Best Buddies and Alex and Ani , 20,000 friendship matches have been made, 730 Jobs participants have been hired, 280 future leaders trained, and $1 million in donations raised for Best Buddies.
Another notable and exciting moment from the Best Buddies Leadership Conference was the presence of the Best Buddies Russia delegation. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia selected Best Buddies International as the recipient of the 2016 Peer-to-Peer Grant. The project promotes exchanges between individuals with and without IDD in Russia and the USA. On a monthly basis, participants from Best Buddies Russia and Best Buddies USA share in dynamic webinars to discuss topics such as employment, volunteerism, and how to create inclusive societies. There were 11 participants from Best Buddies USA who have traveled to visit Best Buddies Russia and participate in some of their chapter events. Six participants from Best Buddies Russia and representatives from the US State Department attended this year’s Leadership Conference. The Peer-to-Peer Initiative was featured during the event with a student panel discussing the cultural exchanges and global movement of Best Buddies International.
Best Buddies foundation is sustained by student volunteers who serve as dedicated leaders for the organization. During the conference, select schools and promoter chapters were honored for their service and commitment to Best Buddies. The Outstanding Chapter Awards were given to the following chapters for the 2016-2017 school year. For middle schools: Queensbury Middle School in New York; for high schools: Westborough High School in Massachusetts; for colleges: the University of Kentucky; and for promoter: Columbia Academy in Tennessee.
The 2017 Best Buddies Leadership Conference concluded with a heart-warming and moving closing ceremonies. Best Buddies Memphis participant Angelica Allsup delivered a powerful speech about her friendship with her buddy, Madison; Local news reporter Dion Lim spoke about the ways her television station has become more inclusive and celebrated their local participants; and singer Marlana Vanhoose closed the ceremonies, with all the performers and speakers alongside her, singing “You Raise me Up.” After Closing Ceremonies, students danced and celebrated their accomplishments and the conference at the Festival of Friendship.
The Best Buddies Leadership Conference inspired and galvanized the students and volunteers, they witnessed the positive changes being made across the globe and the ways their friendships have changed lives; they are leaving even more motivated to make the world a more inclusive place for people with IDD!
ABOUT BEST BUDDIES INTERNATIONAL:
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. Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to more than 2,300 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Today, Best Buddies’ eight formal programs — Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies® , Jobs, Ambassadors, and Promoters — engage participants in each of the 50 states and in nearly 50 countries, positively impacting the lives of more than 1.1 million people with and without disabilities around the world. In many cases, as a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships. For more information, please visit www.bestbuddies.org, facebook.com/bestbuddies or twitter.com/bestbuddies.
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