In often segregated landscapes including school and work, the need and dependency for friendships is vital. Oftentimes, introducing and navigating those friendships are near impossible or unattainable for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) – but we know inclusion matters and makes a difference. We sat down with the Senior Vice President of Global Mission, State Development and Operations of Best Buddies, David Quilleon, to learn what inclusion means to him and how his personal experiences led him to Best Buddies.
“The world needs to see more stories about the abilities of people with intellectual & developmental disabilities.”
When did you first get involved with Best Buddies?My mom started a program very similar to Best Buddies called the Buddy System in 1985 and the program was featured on NBC Nightly News in a broadcast on May 8, 1987. She matched my sister’s special education class at Coral Springs High School with the Key Club. I found out about Best Buddies in 1991 when I was a college student at the University of South Florida and I helped to start the first chapter on campus.
What was your inspiration to become a Peer Buddy?Growing up with two siblings with intellectual disabilities, I wanted them both to be afforded the same opportunities as me.
What inspired you to pursue a career with Best Buddies? My inspiration came from seeing the benefits of the program with both my family and my own buddy, Howard. Knowing that our friendship was an important gateway for him to experience life inspired me in so many ways. It was exciting to see him be so grateful and appreciative of the time we spent together and the things that we would do.
Can you recall your most memorable experience at Best Buddies? One of my most memorable moments was during the Fall of 2013 when I helped identify a Best Buddies pair to run in the NYC Marathon. Being a part of that journey with Jimmy Jensen and witnessing his determination to finish strong was a moment I will never forget.
Why is education and advocacy so important for communities? I think the world needs to see more stories about the abilities of people with IDD. There is a story almost every day that speaks to the abuse of this group of people and they are seen as victims in so many ways. Best Buddies positions them as amazing friends, outstanding employees, and effective leaders. That is how we can change attitudes and promote a culture of inclusion.
What does Best Buddies mean to you? Best Buddies means opportunity. I love that our organization is on the forefront every day of promoting what is possible when schools, employers, and people decide to open their minds and hearts to friendship. Best Buddies is a shining beacon of light and hope for the most maligned and disenfranchised group of people to be integrated into communities around the world.
Why is important for Alumni to reconnect with Best Buddies? Alumni should connect with us because their voice and passion for our mission has the potential to affect real change. Best Buddies needs all of our alumni members to stand up and help us secure more friendships, jobs, and leadership opportunities for our buddies. I often imagined my siblings, Ken and Kendra feeling like they were trapped inside of a butterfly cocoon. Their world existed of this tiny, dark enclosure. Never able to soar and show their true colors. And then, Best Buddies came along and provided the perfect environment to crack that shackle of confinement for my siblings and many other people with intellectual disabilities. Thousands of our participants soar like butterflies, with their wings of color on the clouds of friendship, employment, and leadership each and every day. There are still so many more people out there that need to experience the beauty and power of our mission.