Have you ever wanted to be a part of something bigger than you? Beyond what you initially could have imagined and make a difference that would last a lifetime and inspire change? We sat down with Tessie Ann Gonzalez, Best Buddies’ Programs Supervisor of South Florida, to discuss how she discovered Best Buddies and the importance of friendships and alumni.
“Best Buddies has become a lifestyle for me. It feels like home and it has changed the way I see the world and how I treat others.”
When did you first get involved with Best Buddies?
I first got involved with Best Buddies in 2005.
What was your inspiration to become a Peer Buddy?
I was very involved in my high school’s extracurricular activities but noticed that Best Buddies wasn’t as popular as a club and some students avoided individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). I made it my mission to change that.
What inspired you to pursue a career with Best Buddies?
I had such a wonderful experience in high school and being a peer buddy in college. At the time I was working in the legal field and didn’t get the fulfillment I envisioned for myself, so one day I Googled ‘Best Buddies’ because I remembered how it was such a big part and fun time in my life. When I Googled it, I discovered you could actually work for Best Buddies. I didn’t know that and I was really excited for the possibility to make it a career.
Can you recall your most memorable experience at Best Buddies?
During my first year at Best Buddies, I was nominated and selected to be the Employment Consultant of the Year at the Best Buddies Leadership Conference in 2015. It was honestly a surprise and I didn’t expect it being my first year – I felt recognized and welcomed. Another memorable time was when I went to California to work for the Hearst Castle ride. I would never have been able to have had such an amazing life experience if it weren’t for Best Buddies opening those doors for me.
Why is education and advocacy so important for communities?
Education and support are critical to obtaining a more inclusive community for both the buddies and their peers. I’ve never met someone who joined Best Buddies and didn’t like it. There’s no way!
What does Best Buddies mean to you?
Best Buddies has become a lifestyle for me. It feels like home and it has changed the way I see the world and how I treat others. I joined Best Buddies with the impression that I was doing ‘community service.’ Yet, Best Buddies ended up doing ME a service. Best Buddies gave me an opportunity to grow, opened doors for me and gave me a reason to wake up and go to work every day with a purpose – all while having fun!
Why is it important for Alumni to reconnect with Best Buddies?
We should reconnect all the people who have good in their hearts, who once made a decision to be a part of something bigger than themselves and displayed selflessness. We need alumni to change the world.