Does it really matter who belongs?
Why do we do what we do? There are lots of organizations geared toward helping people with disabilities. So, what sets Best Buddies apart?
Well, first of all, we do not help people with disabilities. At Best Buddies we envision a world where people with and without disabilities are viewed with equal respect value, and – very importantly- with equal accountability and responsibility. We are a volunteer organization striving to foster space for inclusive friendships, jobs, leadership, and living. Everyone is a volunteer. It’s not people without disabilities volunteering to be friends with those with disabilities. It’s not ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Its people from different backgrounds, different experiences, but similar interests coming together to make a new friend. But why should we care about people just volunteering to make friends?
Because – as much as we work towards a world where everyone is seen with equal value – we’re not quite there. There are still so many biases and discrimination against people with disabilities.
For that reason, we have to be more than just a fun club for friendship. We have to educate and spread awareness; not just on the reasons people with disabilities should be treated with respect and equitability. But also on the research that proves why.
Our favorite finding on this topic comes from John O’Brien’s research conducted in the 1980’s. O’Brien found there to be five valued experiences that help people live better lives.
When we reflect on these five values, it creates a framework for the way we not only view opportunities for our participants, but also shapes a path for our leaders, for new experiences, and for mission-driven decisions.
For the next couple of weeks, The Daily Best will explore these five valued experiences and examine how Best Buddies provides these opportunities for all volunteers – with and without disabilities – in an effort to offer a better life for everyone who participates.
We will start by exploring the first value, belonging.
Value #1: Belonging
O’Brien’s first valued experience, belonging, seems like a no-brainer. It seems obvious that belonging would contribute to a better life. But besides just feeling this is true, research shows us that it actually is vitally important to well-being. According to research, belonging is linked to better academic, psychological, and health outcomes (Jose, Ryan, & Pryor, 2012); but about 25% of students are classified as having a low sense of belonging (Willms, 2013). By providing opportunities for people to actually feel like they belong, we contribute to their physical, mental, and emotional health.
Best Buddies strives to create a sense of belonging through inclusive activities and leadership opportunities, normalizing equitable space for people of all abilities in school clubs, sports, and social outings.
Parent advocate and Best Buddies champion, Liz Wall, whose daughter, Lottie, has Down syndrome, shares “everybody understands the feeling of exclusion and isolation, and Best Buddies fills a need on both sides of the aisle. Best Buddies seeks to fill that need of the sense of belonging.
“This benefits children like my Lottie because she gets a buddy away from school. It’s during the weekends when the friendship components she enjoys when she’s in school stop. No texts, no invitations to birthdays.
“The benefit for the Buddy is that they get a great lifelong friendship, not just within the school, but outside the school, through the adult years.”
Best Buddies also seeks to develop opportunities for belonging by exploring what makes people feel like they belong. According to research shared by Psychology Today, “another way to build your own sense of belonging is to work on acceptance of others. To accept others…that are not the same as you may require that you open your thoughts to the idea that there is value in everyone’s thinking.”
By offering a safe space for people to practice acceptance and build their own sense of belonging is to create new opportunities for valued experiences, all of which contribute to a better life for our volunteers.
How do you offer a sense of belonging in your life? And what does it mean to you to belong? Share your thoughts with us below or on our social pages @bbuniversity on Instagram and Facebook!