2017 was a year of change, opportunities for growth, and many things to be proud of at Best Buddies in Arizona. As the new State Director, I am honored to join the team and share my excitement and passion for the nonprofit world after over a decade of experience in the industry.
We started off the year with our mission at the forefront by holding the 6th Annual Friendship Walk, with more than 1,200 in attendance and raising over $50,000 to support friendship and inclusion programs in Arizona. We continued to focus on our students by holding our Spring Leadership Training, where 50 young leaders from across the state gathered to expand their leadership skills.
In early spring, we officially opened our first elementary school program at Canyon Elementary in Glendale, and we plan to expand into more elementary schools in 2018.
Best Buddies in Arizona is not without its talented “stars” and achievers, and this year definitely showcased this. At the annual City of Tempe YouthFest, two student leaders from Marcos de Niza High School were recognized and received the Changemaker and Courage Awards. In March, our Global Ambassador Charles Calhoun gave a keynote speech at the annual i4cp Conference to over 400 corporate executives from across the nation on the importance of hiring individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
In July, we traded the intense “dry heat” for humidity and traveled to Indianapolis for the life-changing Best Buddies Leadership Conference, with attendance from 50 student leaders, teacher advisors, and Ambassadors, representing over 30 schools in Arizona. Even more exciting, our very own Buddy Ambassador, Ashlee Coffman, was chosen to speak at the event’s Closing Ceremony to over 2,200 attendees and live-streamed to hundreds of thousands around the globe.
The weather in November finally cooled down, making it a busy month for Arizona. We held our 14th Annual Spirit of Friendship Gala, a James Bond-themed event where over 200 distinguished guests raised an incredible $220,000 to support the growth of our mission in Arizona. Later in the month, our buddies danced the night away at the annual Buddy Prom at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix Hotel, where over 1,000 students, donors, and supporters gathered to make it the highest-attended Buddy Prom in the event’s history.
Our year would not be complete without highlighting the growth and leadership of our state Advisory Board, and expanding our board will continue to be a major goal in 2018.
Thanks to our generous supporters and dedicated volunteers, Best Buddies in Arizona was able to directly support 2,100 individuals with and without IDD, reaching over 21,000 individuals in communities throughout Arizona. In total, we supported friendship programs at four colleges, 28 high schools, 10 middle schools, and 1 elementary school, as well as trained 10 new individuals with IDD as Best Buddies Ambassadors.
We look forward to working with you in 2018 as we continue to build upon the success of 2017 by expanding our reach into more schools, communities, and companies across Arizona.