When I was first introduced to Best Buddies 15 years ago, I had no idea how much it would impact my life and help me become the woman I am today.
Growing up, I felt misunderstood- I didn’t have many friends or felt included in school. When I was in elementary school, I remember being told by another girl that I looked different and weird. that I looked like an alien. When I turned around, there was a group of my classmates laughing at me. I remember feeling so embarrassed and alone-feelings that I carried with me until I was introduced to Best Buddies many years later during high school. I feel like that’s when my life really started to change course for the better!
Joining Best Buddies changed my life in so many positive ways, but most importantly, it marks the first time I didn’t feel held-back or defined by my disabilities.
I started to engage more with my peers and felt included at Best Buddies meetings, group activities and social events. It was like I had found the missing puzzle piece to my life! I’ll never forget how it felt when I was paired up with my first peer buddy, Michelle. It was my first experience having a friend and being a friend in return.
By staying involved with Best Buddies over the past 15 years, I’ve been able to find my voice and tell myself “I CAN!” The friendships I’ve made have helped me with some of my biggest personal challenges. I’ve always feared that people won’t like me or give me a chance, but not anymore! Today I live independently, pay bills, stay active in my community, and have had a job for over 5 years. I’m matched in an awesome one-to-one friendship through the Best Buddies Friendship chapter at Arizona State University and have been actively involved with the Ambassadors program in Arizona for the past six years.
Early memories like the ones from elementary school can still be painful to think about, but they also remind me of how far I’ve come. They help to motivate me in my role as an Ambassador, advocating on behalf of those who might be feeling or experiencing the things I once did, but may not have the sense of hope I feel now. Now, I get to be a leader and advocate for myself and others about the importance of inclusion, friendship and acceptance. I want others to feel valued and included, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. Everybody deserves to feel and experience the things that Best Buddies has done for me and so many of my peers. When people are seen for their abilities and not singled out because of their disabilities, it can change lives and it can change the world.
Today I feel valued, important, and truly happy with the person I have become. I am grateful for the impact that Best Buddies has made on my life and so many of my friends. Thank you to Best Buddies for inspiring me to live with courage.