Cheers to our Champions!
We are proud to share that our 2023 Champion of the Year events were truly record-breaking throughout the state. The Champion of the Year galas in the Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles, and the inaugural Sacramento event exceeded expectations, featuring 54 Champions who collectively raised $635,000 for our programs throughout California.
The efforts of each member of the 2023 Champion Class will play a vital role in fostering one-to-one friendship, integrated employment, and leadership development for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
Our first event of the Year was in the Bay Area, where BJ White had the honor of being named Grand Champion of the Year. With an impressive three-decade-long association with Best Buddies, BJ’s dedication to the cause remains unwavering. He remains an exemplary story of a participant with IDD that has gone through our friendship program in high school, and then found a 15+ year career through our Jobs program. Having raised an admirable $31,000, BJ’s commitment and long-term involvement reflect the enduring spirit of Best Buddies’ mission to foster genuine connections and break down barriers. Each of the twelve Champion of the Year candidates in the Bay Area surpassed their fundraising goals, which led to the event raising an incredible $192,000!
Our next gala was in sunny San Diego, where Kimberly Hazard, an esteemed advisory board member and corporate partner at High Flying Foods, shined as a beacon of advocacy and took home the Grand Champion title. Not only has she made significant strategic contributions to our San Diego expansion efforts, but as a devoted parent to a Best Buddies participant, she spearheaded a fundraising effort that raised an impressive $57,231 for local Best Buddies programs in San Diego. With the help of ten ambitious Champion candidates, the San Diego gala achieved a remarkable 233% of their fundraising goal, generating $140,000.
Following the success of the San Diego gala, the Los Angeles gala set a record with $219,000 raised for our inclusion efforts. Kristen Van Handel was crowned the Grand Champion of LA by raising $66,000, meaning she raised the most out of all of our 54 Champion candidates! She is a participant in the Jobs program and was the first placement through our national partnership with Sephora. She is living her dream working as a beauty advisor at Sephora in Orange County, and through her Champion campaign, will open the door so other individuals with IDD can pursue their dream jobs.
Our final event in California was a first – the inaugural Champion of the Year gala in Sacramento! Ashlee Patel emerged as another noteworthy Champion of the Year, with an incredible fundraising total of $26,885. Ashlee’s efforts will significantly enrich the local Best Buddies initiatives, reinforcing the organization’s mission to create opportunities for meaningful friendships and social inclusion. Along with seven other Champion candidates, the event surpassed their goal and raised $84,000!
In extending our gratitude, we celebrate the broader impact of the entire 2023 Champion class, a diverse group of 54 advocates who, through their collective efforts, have fortified the bonds of friendship, promoted inclusivity, and fueled positive change within their communities. Their dedication, unique backgrounds, and talents have not gone unnoticed, collectively propelling Best Buddies toward a brighter, more inclusive future. Thank you for being the champions our communities need and inspiring us all to strive for a world where everyone is included, valued, and celebrated.
If you know an inclusion leader that you would like to nominate as a 2024 Champion of the Year candidate, please click this link and let us know!