Anyone who happened to catch the ESPN “ESPY” Awards last Wednesday, received a very moving lesson on the history of the Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver posthumously received the “Arthur Ash Courage Award” for her work in creating and building the Special Olympics program to what it is today. Her son, Timothy Shriver, current Chair of the Special Olympics, accepted the award on her behalf.
In his very moving acceptance speech Shriver recognized that there “is still a lot of work to do.” He was referring to some of the struggles that students with developmental and intellectual disabilities encounter at school. This brings me to a second of many of the organizations in which the Shriver family is involved to support people with disabilities.
I am writing about the “Best Buddies” program this week as we hit the middle of summer mark and kids are starting to realize that a new school year is coming up fast. “Best Buddies” was founded by another Shriver sibling, Anthony Shriver, in 1989. His intent was to create an organization that would “foster one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
“Best Buddies” is comprised of eight programs that positively impact more than 900,000 people worldwide. It is active in each of the 50 United States. Their “Best Buddies Friendship Programs” strive to build one-to-one friendships between people with and without disabilities. The programs can be found in middle schools, high schools, colleges, “Best Buddies Citizens” for adults in corporate and civic communities and “e-Buddies” for those who are more comfortable using technology.
In Utah there are five universities who have Best Buddy chapters including our local Brigham Young University. Out of the seven high schools in Utah implementing the program, only two, Pleasant Grove and Provo High, are in Utah Valley.
On July 21 through 24, many volunteers will be attending a Best Buddies Leadership Conference in Indiana. The theme of the conference is “Pass the Torch” which emphasizes 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 mission that began with Eunice Shriver in her own backyard. There are three volunteers attending the conference from Utah and hopefully will return with enthusiasm and drive for necessary change.
Another way to join the cause for equality and understanding is to participate in the Best Buddies Walk for Inclusion which will take place at the West Jordan Veteran’s Memorial Park on October 7. This walk is key in funding the programs that support one-to-one friendships, leadership development and integrated job opportunities.
“Best Buddies” is a well-structured program that tries to close the gap that still exists between people with and without developmental and intellectual disabilities. Perhaps, as we prepare to start the next school year, it would be a good time to contact the local chapter and learn if it would be a good option for your school. Information on “Best Buddies Utah” can be found through www.bestbuddies.org. This is a great way to actively be part of the solution.
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