Ryan Erickson-Kulas is extremely excited to have recently started working with Best Buddies Virginia in the state with which he fell in love with during his years in college. He attended the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and graduated in 2011.
He then went to work for Teach for America and taught high school math (everyone’s favorite subject) in Creedmoor, NC, a rural town of about 4,000 people. Needless to say, he is excited about returning to the big city life in and around Washington, D.C., and is even more pumped to be working for a great organization.
During his time in the classroom he had the privilege of teaching a special education inclusion class each semester. For him, these classes were always the most rewarding. There was such a spirit of collaboration between students of all ability levels in these classes that it was an inspiration to him as a teacher.
During his time at Best Buddies Virginia, he has seen a similar collaborative spirit among our amazing students. Starting his employment with an event such as Leadership Conference was the best way to dive head first into the Best Buddies world. Seeing student leaders from around the world that were so passionate about the cause of friendship and inclusion really helped kick start his Best Buddies experience.
When he is not toiling way in the Best Buddies Virginia office, he is usually rooting on his favorite sports teams. He is a huge New York Mets and Miami Dolphins fan, which means that he endures suffering every single season.
To cleanse his mind after a stressful day of work (or brutal Mets loss) he will often run long distances, and just completed his first half-marathon in June. He is excited to be joining the staff here and looks forward to meeting everyone involved with BBVA.
Support our friendship programs in Virginia: DONATE or VOLUNTEER at Best Buddies today.
Christopher Johnson is the new Program Supervisor, Jobs at Best Buddies Virginia, and he comes to us with five years of experience in vocational rehabilitation, job development and coaching, and program management serving adults with disabilities. Chris is certified as a Job & Career Development Coach with experience primarily supporting adults in Maryland. He has assisted applicants in obtaining full time and part time work in a variety of fields including government, contracting, healthcare, retail, and technology, private and nonprofit sectors.
Chris is a firm believer that socialization and relating to coworkers are key components of being successful in the workplace. He joined Best Buddies Virginia to share in this vision and facilitate both friendships and success at work.
Support our friendship programs in Virginia: DONATE or VOLUNTEER at Best Buddies today.
Karen Glasser was a graduate film student at New York University when Best Buddies was founded, and back then it didn’t occur to her that she might find her purpose in the not-for-profit world, but that’s exactly what happened.
Though she volunteered with several organizations, including Special Olympics and the Bowery Mission, while working in the motion picture industry in New York, the birth of her children made her realize she wanted to give back to her community in a way that made a genuine difference in people’s lives.
After she and her husband moved the family to Virginia, she began work as a substitute teacher in the Alexandria City Public School System and became a volunteer at her children’s elementary school. Her increasing community involvement led to a one-year term running seventeen after-school programs for the PTA, and reinforced her desire to help others.
In 2011, Karen became a Membership Coordinator with the Public Justice Foundation which supports a national Public Interest law firm promoting access to justice and advocating for those who cannot defend themselves. There she managed nearly 2,300 members, aided in the development of outreach initiatives to expand membership, ran multiple solicitation campaigns, created a now thriving internship program, and co-coordinated one of the most profitable annual “Phonathon” fundraisers in the organization’s history.
As Best Buddies Virginia’s new Director, State Operations & Programs, Karen is genuinely thrilled to be able to blend her programmatic skills with her love of working among young people. She has truly enjoyed spending time with the students, jobs participants, parents and advisors she has met so far, and she is especially excited to be able to help support the dynamic chapters and generous employers we are so lucky to have in Virginia. She is also looking forward to creating new opportunities for other schools and communities throughout the state to become involved with our phenomenal organization and to embrace our messages of friendship and inclusion.
Support our friendship programs in Virginia: DONATE or VOLUNTEER at Best Buddies today.
Spread the Word to End the Word, March 6, 2013 -- SPEAK OUT NOW!
The first Wednesday of March has easily become one of my favorite days of the year. A day when people around the world recognize that our words can hurt and a time when we are challenged to adjust our vocabulary to encourage others instead of demean them.
On March 6th, hundreds of Best Buddies supporters will participate in the “Spread the Word to End the Word” initiative, a global movement intended to raise awareness of the harmful effects of the derogatory use of the word “retard(ed)”.
With this exhilarating event being just over a week away, the excitement in all of our 40 chapters for Spread the Word is uncontainable. Posters, flyers, and videos are circling around schools, communities and the world of social media, educating others about the R Word campaign and getting people from across Virginia energized about what next week holds!
All of the BBVA chapters have something special planned for this day. The most common activity is to have fellow classmates sign a pledge banner expressing their dedication to eliminate the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
All of these pledge banners will be counted and a total will be sent to the R-Word Campaign. The signatures will be added to the ongoing count of individuals who have taken the pledge. As of today, over 343,000 people have supported the elimination of the R word.
Please join us in our efforts to see the ability in everyone, and to be conscious of how our words can affect those around us. Respect is the new R word!! If you would like to pledge to end the R word, please go to www.r-word.org and join us in this fight for a more inclusive society!
Support our friendship programs in Virginia: DONATE or VOLUNTEER at Best Buddies today.
His mother started the Special Olympics. His father launched the Peace Corps. So it’s little wonder that Best Buddies, the organization he started in college, is so close to Anthony Kennedy Shriver’s heart.
Jason Nuttle for The Boston Globe.
From left: Maria Shriver, the late Eunice Shriver, and Anthony Kennedy Shriver at a Best Buddies event in 2005.
Laura Dickinson, The Tribune via AP.
Anthony Shriver with his Best Buddy Jorge Morilla at his home in Miami.
Jason Nuttle for The Boston Globe.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver was a junior at Georgetown University in 1987 when he came up with what he thought was a really cool idea: Why not start an organization that would pair kids then labeled “mentally retarded” with volunteer buddies in a one-on-one relationship? He appointed his roommate treasurer, and his best friends signed on as the buddies.
By his senior year, the classmates had paired up with 52 young people.
Today, Shriver is 46, the term “mentally retarded” is considered a slur, and the group that operated out of his dorm room is Best Buddies International, a nonprofit that operates in every state and on every continent except Antarctica. On Saturday, hundreds of cyclists will take off from the JFK Library in Boston and ride 100 miles to Craigville Beach, near the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port in the 13th annual Best Buddies Challenge.
For Shriver, the roots of working with the intellectually challenged were planted in his childhood; in fact, in his backyard. The youngest son of Eunice Kennedy, who founded Special Olympics, and Sargent Shriver, who started the Peace Corps, Anthony Shriver grew up on a farm named Timberlawn in Rockville, Md.
It was at Timberlawn in 1965 that his mother started a summer camp for children with developmental challenges that presaged the Special Olympics, which she would start three years later. “Timberlawn was a huge property with a pool, a barn, horse-riding rink, basketball court, fields,” says Shriver. “Big buses would pull up in our driveway, and kids would pour out.”
Decades later, at age 80, Eunice Kennedy started a summer camp for those with intellectual disabilities, and would get in the pool at UMass-Boston to teach swimming lessons. Until she was 82, she rode tandem with a “buddy” as part of the Hyannis Port challenge festivities. Both she and her husband were on the Best Buddies board; Sargent Shriver was chairman until he contracted Alzheimer’s disease.
Anthony Shriver’s Aunt Rosemary was another major influence. In 1941, when she was 23, Rosemary Kennedy was lobotomized because her father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., thought it would cure her mood swings. But she was left incapacitated and spent the rest of her life in an institution.
Rosemary and Eunice had always been close, and Rosemary would stay with the Shrivers for a couple of months every year. When her nephew Anthony grew up and moved to Florida, she stayed with him and his family for a couple of months each of the 20 years before she died in 2005.
In envisioning Best Buddies, Shriver says he thought that giving others the chance to have a close relationship with someone verbally and mentally challenged would be “a special experience that would enrich their souls, enrich their hearts.
“Growing up with Aunt Rosemary has been a great experience for me and for my kids,” he says.
Shriver’s parents led by example, not by edict, and didn’t pressure their children to go into public service: “They wanted us to do something meaningful that we were passionate about.”
His brother Mark is a senior vice president for Save the Children, Tim took over Special Olympics from his parents, both now deceased. Bobby, the former mayor of Santa Monica, Calif., founded a nonprofit to aid Africa and a company to raise money for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
The brothers help with Best Buddies, as does sister Maria, whose team last year raised $450,000 in the Best Buddies Challenge that runs from Carmel to San Simeon, Calif. Her daughter, Katherine Schwarzenegger, recently joined the board.
Hyannis Port was the first Best Buddies Challenge ride; the California Challenge was started 10 years ago; Washington, D.C., three years ago, and a Miami ride will be launched next year. That first year, 50 cyclists raised $200,000. This Saturday, Hyannis Port will host 1,600 riders with a goal of $4.7 million.
The rides — which also feature 50- and 20-mile alternative routes, as well as a charity walk and run — have raised more than $100 million for the organization. In addition to the friendship program, Best Buddies has a jobs program that helps buddies find and keep jobs.
“There’s a huge vacuum once they get out of school,” says Shriver. “Getting that social outlet, getting them employment is a critical part of getting them independent.”
One of Shriver’s buddies is Jorge Morilla, 41. They met 17 years ago and have been a pair since. “He knows all my kids, has been to their sporting events, to our house,” says Shriver. “We go to the movies. It’s not like, ‘Hey, I have to go see Jorge this week.’ It’s just like he’s a friend of mine.”
Shriver helped find Morilla a job; he works at the Hyatt Regency in Miami Beach as a special projects houseman in maintenance and on the loading dock. He has done 12 Best Buddies Challenge rides.
Best Buddies, says Morilla in an e-mail, has been his “Express to Success,” earning him friends, employment, “and the freedom to go places and do things I couldn’t ever do before.” He calls Shriver “a great friend and motivator,” and lists several activities he’s enjoyed with the Shriver family, including attending Miami Dolphins games in “a suite on the Club Level.”
Miami? When Shriver graduated from Georgetown, he decided to build Best Buddies on a state-by-state basis. The state of Florida gave him a grant and he committed for two years.
He never left. “I liked the weather,” says Shriver, who lives in Miami, where he met his wife, Alina. The couple has five children, including 22-year-old Teddy, who is in Peru for the Peace Corps — the “first Shriver grandkid to join,” says Shriver.
Like their father, his own children are growing up with social activism. They have all been closely involved with Best Buddies, organizing school chapters and events. Carolina, 10, created a campaign and had classmates sign a pledge not to use “the R word,” as it is called by advocates who want to erase the term “mental retardation.”
Shriver’s youngest, Joey, is only 2½. “But he wears Best Buddies T-shirts all over the place,” he says, laughing.
A shrewd marketer, Shriver has brought top athletes into the Best Buddies fold. “Our culture is celebrity driven and celebrity obsessed,” he says. “It helps us a lot when we try to sign people up. I think there’s no one bigger in New England than Tom.”
That would be New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. In 2002, Shriver asked Brady to ride in the Hyannis Port challenge.
“I was relatively new to the community and wanted to take part in some fun event,” says Brady, who rode the 20-mile course with his sisters. “After being there with the buddies and the families, I have looked forward to it every year since.”
For five years, Brady has been honorary chair of the event, and has a longtime Best Buddy named Katie. The night before the Hyannis Port ride, the Tom Brady Football Challenge at Harvard Stadium will feature Brady quarterbacking both teams, which will be captained by two buddies, and include a mix of other buddies and Patriots players
Boston runs in the Kennedy bloodline, along with square jaws and good teeth. Though long a Floridian, Shriver visits the Boston Best Buddies office throughout the year, and his family spends the summers at the Shriver home in Hyannis Port.
Seyfarth Shaw donates the Boston office space, employs four Best Buddies, and its cycling teams have raised more than $1 million for the cause. The law firm this year will be presented with Best Buddies’ highest accolade: the Spirit of Leadership Award.
At the end of the Hyannis Port ride, cyclists are rewarded with a clambake on Craigville Beach, with a rock band. The party used to be held on Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s property overlooking Nantucket Sound, and Uncle Teddy would address the crowd, but it outgrew the space.
Best Buddies has come a long way since its days in the dorm room, but Shriver isn’t content to let it be. “Next year, we’re adding a one-mile swim off Craigville Beach, and we’ll have a triathlon in 2013. The name of the game is you gotta keep stuff new and different.”
At least, that’s what his parents always told him.
Allison Klem, Eva Muszynski, Tricia Leano, Caroline Keating, Frankie Zito, Gennie Gilson, Clara Balestrieri and Anna Merlene help out with the refreshments during a break in the dance.
Photo by Louise Krafft.
Caller Butch Adams asks for the heads to raise their hands. Kenmore MS Buddy Pair Faith Blevins and Lauren Breyer oblige. Photo by Louis Krafft.
The Yorktown High School chapter of Best Buddies hosted a square dance on Saturday, March 10 collaborating with Arlington's Department of Parks and Recreation in addition to the Arlington Partnership for Youth and Family and the Teen Network Board.
More than 100 guests danced in the cafeteria at Yorktown High school as caller Butch Adams introduced new square dance steps. Yorktown’s Best Buddy Chapter currently has 86 members, 13 of whom have disabilities. Chapter president Kelly Willner said, "Our chapter has led an awareness initiative through our peer education committee. Our ‘awareness educators’ give disability awareness trainings to other groups at Yorktown and in the larger Arlington community. This March, we took part in the spread the word to end the word campaign, an initiative to generate awareness about the hurtful and derogatory implications of the word ‘retarded.’ Our square dance was themed ‘square off with the r-word.’"
Best Buddies is a nonprofit that promotes the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are chapters in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. The Yorktown chapter sponsors three events each month that students with and without disabilities can enjoy together, such as cookie decorating or basketball.
Gordon Hom from Langley HS and Speech Coach, John "Dag" D'Agostino, Best Buddies VA Program Manager.
The 2012 Buddy Ambassadors. Back Row (L to R): Kaitlin Andersen, Kevin Bennett, Sara Bartee, Milton Portillo-Ortez, Malik Johnson, and Brian Ramos. Front Row (L to R): Zoe Allen-Lewis, Jonah Gilman, Elyse Fernandez, and Gordon Hom.
High fives and shouts of congratulations greet Gordon Hom as he walks to his classroom and through the hallways.
Gordon Hom, student and beloved member of Best Buddies, was chosen to be one of 10 students out of the state to participate in a speech writing and oratory skills training session at George Washington University in order to serve as a Best Buddies Ambassador.
Best Buddies Ambassadors prepare a speech to be given in order to educate and promote leadership among the intellectual and developmentally disabled community. The ambassadors can deliver their speech before school audiences, organizations, and even legislative bodies.
“I’m kind of excited,” says Gordon, “It’s good, I feel pretty good,” he said.
Gordon’s teacher Ms. Jen Lincicome has been in support of Gordon and is hopeful. “This is a wonderful opportunity for Gordon. Best Buddies Langley is proud that he was chosen to participate in the Ambassador training and will be able to use the skills learned to promote the message of inclusion and acceptance,” she said.
Gordon recently participated in the Best Buddies’ campaign “Spread the Word to End the Word” and sat at the table in the cafeteria with the banner, along with his other classmates and members of the Best Buddies club.
Best Buddies Langley is one section of the larger Best Buddies International that operates in all 50 states and has over 900 high school programs worldwide, according to Best Buddies International.
The ambassador program that Gordon will participate in strengthens these connections. Working with other states, the goal is to develop a larger movement of the advancement of people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).
SOURCE: TheSaxon Scope, Issue 6, Vol. 47
Support our friendship programs in Virginia: DONATE or VOLUNTEER at Best Buddies today.
by BUDDY TALENT CONTEST
Best Buddies International
Best Buddies would like to showcase the gifts of our participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities by hosting an online talent contest. We invite our participants with disabilities to submit a video featuring their talent(s). The public will vote on their favorites and narrow down the finalists. Then, Best Buddies founder and chairman, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, will choose a winner to perform at the 2012 Best Buddies Leadership Conference!
HOW THE CONTEST WORKS
Submit an entry by filling out an application and posting a video response to our host video (please see our video submission guide at the bottom of this page for instructions). Entry submission will begin on Monday, March 12, 12:00 am ET and close on Monday, April 23,11:59 pm ET.
Vote for an entry at any time by clicking on the Like button under your favorite video (please see our voting guide at the bottom of this page for instructions). Voting will end on Wednesday, May 2, 11:59 pm ET and finalists will be selected.
The winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 16, 1:00 pm ET.
The chance to perform at the 2012 Best Buddies Leadership Conference opening ceremonies! This means the winner would perform live at Indiana University in front of over 1,300 audience members and the world via our online stream! The prize includes an all expense paid trip for each performer plus one guest to the 2012 Best Buddies Leadership Conference opening ceremonies.
ELIGIBILITY & RULES
Must be a person with intellectual and developmental disabilities Must be participants of a Best Buddies program and/or part of the Best Buddies family Must be available and willing to travel to and perform live in Bloomington, IN on July 20th, 2012 Online contest application must be completed by all parties If under 18, must have parent/guardian permission to participate Entry must be in video form and a maximum of 3 minutes in length
"They don’t understand that I am no different from any of them. Just because I’m in the Special Education program does not mean that I should be called a retard or that I am stupid.”
This year The Corp’s Community Service Outreach Committee and Best Buddies are teaming up to spearhead the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign on campus. For all of March, we will be raising awareness about just how hurtful the word “retard(ed)” can be and urging others to pledge to remove the word from their everyday vocabulary.
Here’s one Hoya’s reason for pledging:
“My name is Corey Stewart and I pledged two years ago to Ban the R-Word. To me, the word “retard” was just another word that I casually lobbed out in everyday conversation. Anything that was slightly abnormal or any action that was out of character for a person would be described using this word. I did not realize the severity of the impact of using the word until I had a conversation with some of the friends from my high school’s Best Buddies program."
I was talking to a girl about what makes us happy and what makes us sad. She replied that during most days of the week, she returns home from school and sobs because people call her a retard. ”They don’t understand that I am no different from any of them. Just because I’m in the Special Education program does not mean that I should be called a retard or that I am stupid.”
I came to the realization that by simply changing one small aspect in my actions, I could help this girl, as well as the nearly seven million people in the United States today, who feel the internal pain when this word is directed towards them. Simply put, the senseless use of this word is deplorable.”
The Ban the R-Word Campaign has shaped my involvement with the Best Buddies program. I have worked hard to spread the word to end the word with simple conversations and through more active means, such as starting petitions and making videos. The word is used commonly around the Georgetown campus, not because students are cruel, but because they are unaware of how hurtful the word is.
I urge all members of the University community to not only stop using the word retard, but to also encourage others to follow suit. It is a simple change that we can make one person at a time. In doing so, we will live up to our full potential of being true Hoyas, who have respect and compassion for all individuals.
Members of the UMW chapter "spreading the word" and keeping warm!
Cici’s Pizza parlor located in Fredericksburg, Va., was the site of a recent meeting and fundraiser for the Best Buddies mentoring program that involves several students from Mary Washington University.
The restaurant was crowded with patrons, and because the management had agreed to donate 10% of the total sales for the evening. The event grossed just over $130, according to UMW Best Buddies Treasurer Jessie Davis-Lee.
Jessie Davis-Lee has been in the Best Buddies program for a year and noted that, “being hearing impaired myself I understand living with a disability.” These donations provide a portion of the funds necessary for upcoming events including a holiday dance on Dec. 7, for the young adults enrolled in the program.
The Best Buddies chapter at Mary Washington consists of 33 “college buddies” who interact with 48 adults and young people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the Fredericksburg area. Acceptance into the Mary Washington University Best Buddies program is relatively simple.
Casey Dodrill, the UMW College Buddy Director, explained that after completing a brief online application from the national organization, accepted students are matched with a “buddy.” New members of the program are encouraged to make contact with their perspective “buddy” and find common ground. This allows the two partners to maintain a good relationship, while ensuring that issues like transportation to and from events can be coordinated properly.
Best Buddies was created in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver. His mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was a leader for the cause of persons with intellectual disabilities. Best Buddies is the only organization within the United States that focuses exclusively on improving the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through one-to-one friendships with people without disabilities. The national organization contains almost 1,500 chapters worldwide according to their website.
The college participants at UMW are expected to maintain contact at least once a week and participate in two activities together with their matched “buddy.” Mentors are expected to keep a contact log for review by the national organization, and should attend monthly chapter meetings, along with important buddy events.
These new friendships between young people and their disadvantaged partners ensures a new sense of friendship and belonging. Ms. Dodrill provided a glimpse of what she had learned through her experience with Best Buddies noting that, “I gained a better understanding of the challenges my buddy faced, while growing myself as a team leader.”
Support our friendship programs in Virginia: DONATE or VOLUNTEER at Best Buddies today.
Sarah Smith, Oakton High School senior and chapter president of Best Buddies.
Before I got to middle school I didn’t really know anything about special needs. I’d been to a private school for my whole life; I’ve never been in a school environment with anyone with special needs.
So when I came to middle school, I didn’t have any set thoughts toward them. I didn’t have any prejudices or judgments. Honestly, anything they did, I just accepted that.
They’re different than what we’re used to [but] they’re still people; they’re still the same. Like at my high school, they still want to do the same things that everyone else wants to.
It’s hard enough to go to high school, in general, for people my age. But it’s even harder when you’re so anxious about where you’re gonna sit at lunch. Who are you gonna talk to in the hallway?
Who are you gonna talk to in the morning? So the organization really just helps them meet people throughout the school and helps kind of spark these friendships that get them through high school happily. ’Cause it’s just such a stressful environment to be in, especially if you don’t know who your friends are.
I don’t have any issues with any of my friends being rude to any of the buddies. And all my friends have pretty much stopped saying the “R-word” because Best Buddies campaigns for “Spread the Word to End the Word” — the usage of the word “retarded.”
They’re actually really respectful. For the most part, people don’t really reach out, but if [the buddies] start a conversation with them they won’t be mean to them. I think that’s the biggest problem: People get nervous. They’re not exactly sure what to do.
The first time I met [my buddy] was in my PE class. He was just running around, and everyone was kind of staring at him. I was just like, You know what? I’m gonna run around with him and try to get him to talk to me. We just ran around; we didn’t talk.
We ran around all year, and then he finally talked to me at the end of the year. It was like the biggest highlight of my life — the fact that we were finally talking about haircuts and dogs, and probably grilled cheese, too. Those are, like, his three favorite things.
When I bring my buddy around, everyone can see how happy the two of us are together. Like the time he brought his Buddha sculpture with him to school and talked to me about Buddha. I didn’t even know he knew who Buddha was. And it turns out he’s amazing at Wii bowling. He gets strikes every time. All these memories that I create with him end up being my new favorite memories because he’s just such an inspirational figure for my life.
Lizzie Schaefermeier, a senior at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, helps a student from St. Coletta Special Education Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., frost a cupcake during a recent Best Buddies get-together.
At Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Salesian spirituality sets the tone for the community and affects all its members. This year, a program that has a Salesian focus and has sparked the attention of many students is Best Buddies.
Best Buddies helps students get to know people they might otherwise not get to interact or share an experience with. It breaks barriers and stereotypes, allowing students to see the face of Our Lord in those being served. Ireton has been working with the program since last year and has recruited many new members with its message of unity.
Senior Lizzie Schaefermeier, a parishioner of Good Shepard Parish in Alexandria, started the club to raise awareness for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also wanted students to get a chance to interact with peers who have disabilities. The program promotes the acceptance of all individuals.
“Our main goal is not necessarily serving people with disabilities; it is to provide them with a normal friendship,” said Schaefermeier.
This year the members participated in many activities with St. Coletta Special Education Public Charter School. St. Coletta is a school in Washington, D.C., that specializes in educating children with special needs. They have decorated cupcakes, assisted them with their Fall Festival, and participated in a 5K run in D.C., which was a national Best Buddies fundraiser. Raising money through lollipop and baked goods sales has increased school involvement with the program.
Future plans for Best Buddies include a screening of the movie “Shooting Beauty,” about a group of adults with disabilities who receive cameras to document their lives. The theme of the film is “Everyone deserves a shot."
They also hope to have a Best Buddies ambassador come speak about ending the use of the “r-word” (retarded), which is commonly used in a derogatory way. This will all hopefully take place during Spread the Word to End the Word day, March 2, 2012.
Junior Allison Lee, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Lake Ridge, said she likes being part of the Best Buddies program because “not only are we helping the children, but they are helping us to have a positive attitude about life. It allows us to appreciate how lucky we really are because the children are so grateful for all we do for them.”
Tom Hild, a religion teacher at Ireton and parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Eldersburg, Md., said he believes in the work of Best Buddies and has loved working with people who have developmental disabilities.
“These folks have helped me to grow and have made me a better person,” said Hild.
The Ireton community’s involvement in Best Buddies exemplifies the Salesian spirituality that the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, who founded the school, wanted them to follow.
The Blakely Family at the Hyannis Port Challenge in 2009, front row, L to R: Larry, Barbara, Nathan and Daniel.
Marshall High School graduate Daniel Blakely (Class of 2008) and his father will be participating in the Best Buddies Challenge ride in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 22.
They will be riding the 110K/62M course on their recumbent trikes and flying the Virginia Best Buddies and Marshall Boosters banners from their flag poles.
The Best Buddies Challenge is a cycle, run or walk through the Washington, D.C. area.
In 2009, Daniel, his brother Nathan (Class of 2010), his mother and father completed the challenge ride in Hyannis Port, Mass. There they rode from Carver onto Cape Cod and to Hyannis Port.
The Best Buddies program works to make opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Separately, Chantilly’s Gina Latcheran and her son Eric were raising money for Best Buddies, while Centreville’s Kevin Whalen did the same.
When they met last year at a fundraiser, a friendship was formed; and now, all three are participating in the Audi Best Buddies Challenge in Washington, D.C.
But the proceeds won’t just stay in the District; they’ll directly benefit the Virginia Chapter of Best Buddies and local schools — including Centreville, Chantilly and Westfield high schools — containing Best Buddies chapters.
And since Eric, now 24, has intellectual disabilities and leads a full, productive life, his mom champions the cause.
"I can’t give back enough to Best Buddies because it’s done so much for me and my son," said Latcheran, of Poplar Tree Estates. "And when I was a special-ed assistant at Westfield, I went to a leadership conference and got to see the magnitude of what Best Buddies does and how it’ll carry on through all these young people’s lifetimes."
The Best Buddies mission is to establish a global volunteer movement creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more information, see www.bestbuddies.org.
Eric graduated from Chantilly High in 2005 and, in 2009, from The Davis Center which further prepared him for the workplace. He’s held several jobs and, for two years now, has done food prep at Wildflour Bakery, Deli and Catering in Chantilly. He participated in Best Buddies at school and continues to do so via numerous social activities and events.
At Westfield, his mom saw firsthand what this program meant to the students. "And then I saw it as a global involvement," said Latcheran. "Through activities, we met people from all over the world. So Best Buddies isn’t just in school — it’s gone beyond — and I feel good about Eric’s prospects for a full life, friendship and involvement in the world around him."
And, said Whalen, of Centreville’s Walney Glen community, "That’s what hooked me — when I met Eric and Gina, saw Eric at work and met his friends. I’m blessed with four, healthy children with no challenges or disabilities; so when you see causes like this, it’s a feel-good thing to do."
After meeting Whalen, said Latcheran, he and Eric became friends. And through Whalen’s fund-raising efforts, Eric also met and became friends with Australian singer and guitarist Rick Caballo. They’ve kept in touch and Caballo even calls him from Australia just to say hi.
And when Whalen was in the Police Unity Tour bike ride in May, Eric was one of his biggest supporters. Returning to Centreville on Route 29, on one of the last legs of the trip, said Whalen, "Coming uphill and seeing Eric cheering me on was a cool thing and meant a lot to me because he’s my buddy."
"People like the Best Buddies kids for who they are," added Latcheran. "When you’re in Best Buddies, nobody feels alone and there are activities to do, all year ’round."
Now, Whalen and the Latcherans are gearing up for the upcoming Best Buddies Challenge in Washington, D.C. On Saturday, Oct. 22, Whalen and six others on his Little Rascals bike team will cycle 62 miles, from the Mall in D.C. to Montgomery County, Md., and back — 31 miles each way. For more information or to participate, go to www.dcchallenge2011.org.
"The whole route is closed to traffic," said Whalen, his team’s captain. "And for them to block off streets in D.C. for this event is a big deal." His teammates include Centreville friend John Sciarrino and sons Connor and Andrew, who’ll ride 20 miles. Whalen, a co-worker and Fairfax County Police Det. John Carney will bike the whole 62 miles.
Connor and Andrew’s mom, Dawn Sciarrino, plus Gina Latcheran, will do a 5K walk. Meanwhile, Eric — who’s also a Best Buddies ambassador — will join his friends and various dignitaries in the Celebrity/Student 5K fun run/walk at the base of the Washington Monument. Leading the way will be Olympic gold-medalist Carl Lewis. Eric’s been walking each week to get ready and he’s happy to take part in the event. "I’m excited to be in the walk; my friends and I will be walking together," he said. Eric’s also looking forward to hearing rock group, Kool & the Gang, perform at the festivities afterward and "giving Kevin a high five at the finish line." It’s Eric’s second year participating in this walk. He’s also thrilled that Lauren Potter — who has Down Syndrome and portrays cheerleader Becky on the hit TV show, "Glee," — is honorary chair of the Celebrity-Student Fun Run.
To prepare for the bike ride, Whalen’s been bicycling 30 miles every weekend; and a few weeks ago, he rode 70 miles. So for him — who’s used to biking much-longer distances — it’ll be "a fun, easy ride. Plus it’ll be a big high, riding together with everyone for Best Buddies. It’s well-supported and people will be cheering us on, and Eric will be waiting for me at the end to give me a hug."
Best Buddies brings teens and adults together, said Whalen. And when that happens, "Everyone’s the same and gets along," he said. "It’s awesome to see what Best Buddies has done for Eric and his friends. This isn’t just a fundraiser — this is something special that benefits our community."
Agreeing, Latcheran said that, thanks to the training and education special-needs students receive in school, as well as the opportunities that come their way through Best Buddies, the future looks brighter for them. "So next year, there’ll be more jobs for Eric’s friends with special needs because there’s more awareness of what they can do," she said. "More people are graduating from Best Buddies programs in high schools, and employers are learning what good work they do."
"They can apply for jobs and know they’re not going to be discriminated against," said Whalen. "Employers know they’re actually assets."
Latcheran said the Oct. 22 event also raises money for the D.C. chapter of the Best Buddies Citizens program, which paired Eric with 24-year-old Isaiah Wilson, a legislative aide on Capitol Hill. "They get together and talk and also text each other," she said. "They’re also planning to go to some baseball games and a Medieval Madness event in Alexandria."
Eric also participates in the local chapter of Business Buddies, for Buddies who’ve graduated from their high school, college or work program. It’s a social and networking avenue for young adults who do activities together as young professionals.
Now, the Latcherans and Whalen are focused on raising money for the Best Buddies Challenge. Eric and his mom have raised $1,150 so far. But Whalen has to raise $1,500 personally and his team must collect $5,000. To contribute toward his efforts, go to www.dcchallenge2011.org/kevinwhalen.
And no matter who comes in first in the bike ride or fun run/walk, Latcheran already considers Eric and her fortunate to have met Whalen, who’s such a dedicated supporter and a good friend. Said Latcheran: "Best Buddies brought us together last year and made us friends forever."
For most of their lives, many of the 1,300 people who were gathered in the IU Auditorium on Friday have heard the word “can’t.”
At the opening ceremony of the Best Buddies International Leadership Conference, they heard the opposite: Yes, you can.
“‘I think she can’t.’ I’ve heard people say this so many times,” said Rachel Lipke, an intellectual and developmental disabilities self–advocate. “I’ve had a lot of difficulties in my life, but I’ve made sure to turn the word ‘can’t’ into ‘can.’”
The ceremony kick started a four-day conference, bringing together volunteers from all over the world involved in Best Buddies.
Best Buddies is a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
It was founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver and has grown from one chapter to 1,500 branches worldwide in just 22 years.
“It’s 2011 now, it’s their time; they’ve waited long enough,” Shriver said. “This is the most successful Best Buddies has ever been in the worst of economies. And it all starts right here in this room.”
Shriver recalled being in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge last year and being greeted by a beautiful woman with perfect hair and makeup.
The woman was Lauren Porter, an actress on the popular TV show “Glee.” She portrays Becky Jackson, a student with Down syndrome.
Porter was even recognized by the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who were also in the lobby, Shriver said.
“These young girls who are billionaires knew exactly who Lauren P. was,” he said. “It’s time that all the millions of people with these type of intellectual disabilities have these opportunities. They belong in the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge.”
Best Buddies grant writer Missy Collins said she agrees with Shriver, and individuals with IDD deserve equal opportunities.
“I remember I was on a plane with my friend Katie and the stewardess told us we couldn’t sit in the exit row,” Collins said. “She said Katie couldn’t sit there because she had a disability.
“I said, ‘She just gave a speech to the president of Goldman Sachs, I think she’s more than capable of following the directions on this card.’”
The stewardess bumped Collins and Katie up to first class.
Lipke said these stories illustrate a point she tries to make as often as possible when talking to people with IDD. They should be proud of who they are, she said.
“This is the way you were made, this is the way you were born and this is the way you were brought into this world,” Lipke said. “It has taken me a long time to be a person that is proud to have a disability, but Best Buddies has given me that support to know ‘Yes, I can!’
Walkers take off for the 3-mile course through Nottoway Park.
Showing off their new shirts. L to R: Brad Quandt, Marshall HS, Saleh Saeed, South Lakes HS, and Chad Quandt, also of Marshall HS.
Despite overcast skies, more than 400 walkers and runners from 30 local teams gathered Saturday at Oakton High School for the Virginia Best Buddies annual Friendship Walk.
“We would never let the rain stop us,” said Allison Coles, Virginia State Director of Best Buddies International.
Besides teaming up for fun and fellowship, participants raised more than $48,000 to support regional Best Buddies’ activities.
Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization founded by Anthony Shriver, whose parents, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sergeant Shriver, founded the Special Olympics. Best Buddies brings together typical students with developmentally or intellectually disabled students for group and one-on-one activities.
Oakton High School’s Best Buddies chapter, led by president Caroline McGrath, and Best Buddy Ambassador Kevin Bennett, hosted the walk.
Dozens of club members laced up their shoes to walk or run either a 3-mile or 1-mile course.
“It’s all about friendship and inclusion,” McGrath said.
Last October the Oakton club received the 2009-2010 Outstanding Chapter Award from Best Buddies International.
Laurent Amzallag, a local fitness trainer who has traveled nationally with Oprah Winfrey, danced across the field, leading an energetic warmup. It was 15 minutes of fancy footwork at a furious pace.
“This is my second year here, and I probably have a better time than the kids,” Amzallag said.
Incoming Oakton High School Best Buddies president Sarah Smith calls the club “one big family.”
Madison High School’s girls lacrosse team, fresh off a winning championship season, came out to support Best Buddies, and staff from Westbrier Elementary School led the 3-mile walk.
Virginia Best Buddies has chapters at 10 college communities, four middle schools and 16 high schools including Centreville, Chantilly, Edison, HB Woodlawn, Langley, Marshall, McLean, Potomac Falls, Oakton, South Lakes Stratford Program, TC Williams, Wakefield, Washington-Lee, Westfield and Yorktown.
Last year, Best Buddies Virginia programs enriched more than 13,000 lives.
Jonathan and Cindy Tepper, of Gaithersburg, Md., brought their son Adam to participate in the day’s events. Adam had a buddy during high school, and now, at 23, continues to benefit through the Georgetown University club. Adam lives at home and has two part-time jobs while participating in as many Best Buddies activities as possible.
Members of the Georgetown Irish Dancers and Georgetown University Best Buddies Chapter dance together in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
Buddy Pairs tunneling through the Georgetown Irish Dancers at their last Best Buddies meeting.
Ever since I began Irish dance lessons in second grade, the month of March has always been filled with performances. Whether marching in my town’s parade or dancing at black-tie events, during the week of St. Patrick’s Day, my dance shoes almost never leave my feet.
This season was no exception. The Georgetown Irish Dancers had already booked a series of shows, including our annual performance for the incredibly enthusiastic (to say the least) crowd at the Tombs. Typically our dance performances follow the same format: turn on the music, get the audience to clap along, dance, finish, bow, and repeat. We sometimes offer an explanation of the dances as a way of connecting with the audience. Yet, despite our efforts to reach out to our viewers, I usually leave a show reflecting on how well we danced, not necessarily what kind of rapport we established with those in the stands.
A few weeks prior to St. Patrick’s Day, I got an email from the president of Georgetown’s chapter of Best Buddies, a volunteer program that helps establish friendships between Georgetown students and mentally disabled community members. Always eager to perform, we accepted the invitation and began to prepare a lineup of choreography. Though the material we chose was nothing new, the experience we had was something completely unexpected.
As I arrived with eight other dancers to the Leavey Center last Sunday afternoon, we were welcomed by a large crowd of Georgetown students and their buddies, dressed from head to toe in green. At first I was a little concerned about the performance space: rather than a platform, only a few tables had been pushed away to create our “stage,” providing a limited view of our feet and a carpeted surface that would muffle the sound of our fiberglass-tipped shoes. Yet as the nine of us crammed into the center of the space, we were met by an eruption of applause that completely eliminated my brief concern. The music started and the buddies began to clap along to the beat. As the speed of our feet increased our crowd cheered in awe. We finished our first dance to cheers of “Wow!” and “Encore!” It was just a typical routine, but I felt like a rock star on the carpet of Sellinger Lounge.
Some of the buddies were so enthused by the performance that they stood up to tap their feet along to the music. Without the barrier of a stage to separate us from our audience, my fellow dancers and I began pulling them into the center of the floor to dance with us. Before we knew it we had over twenty buddies and their Georgetown partners surrounding us, waiting to learn a traditional Irish folk dance routine. With a little quick thinking and rearranging of tables, the other dancers and I broke down the steps and taught the entire crowd.
After about 15 minutes of somewhat chaotic skipping, marching, and jumping, our interaction had transcended the dance. No longer was our exchange between entertainers and audience. Together on the same floor, the buddies and the dancers began to engage each other in conversation, learning names and discovering mutual interests. I didn’t feel like a performer or a teacher but a participant in an event of mutual understanding. Though we came from different backgrounds, the buddies and the Georgetown students shared the excitement of trying something new solely for the fun of it.
Toward the end of the party an elderly buddy named Catherine-Lee came up to me and hugged me. Before releasing me from her warm embrace she announced, “I love you.” I didn’t know quite what to say, taken aback by her uninhibited remark, but after a moment I realized that her sentiment had completely captured my emotion toward the group. To me, this simple St. Patrick’s Day party symbolized what I feel Georgetown tries to instill in its students. Our diverse group converged on a single platform to build friendships and find a common bond through the shared experience of dance.
Special Education Advisor Rachael Crawford with Buddy Pair and friends, Andrew Scherzinger and Ben Kim, members of the South Lakes High School Best Buddies Chapter.
Name: Andrew Scherzinger
School: South Lakes High School
Accomplishments: In early March , Andrew was one 14 high school students to receive a Fairfax County Peace Award for his leadership with South Lakes' new Best Buddies group.
The award was founded and funded by area religious and secular groups to recognize student ambassadors of peace. Scherzinger's counselor, Tracy Albert, nominated him for the award.
Key to Awesomeness: Scherzinger is president of Best Buddies, a new after-school club at South Lakes that brings together typical students with developmentally or intellectually disabled students for group and one-on-one activities. The club now has 40 members. Rachael Crawford is the faculty advisor.
To read the club’s history and Scherzinger's involvement, click here.
Buddy Pair and friends, Caitlin Donovan and Alexa Rivas, members of the George Mason University Best Buddies Chapter.
"Friendships give joy,” said Allison Coles, state director of Best Buddies Virginia. Friends help shape language, social development and self-esteem, she added, but most of all, they enrich life. For individuals with intellectual disabilities, the contexts in which friendships develop — such as athletics, social events and extracurricular activities — can be limited, Coles said.
Within the Arlington Diocese, however, Special Olympics, ArtStream and Best Buddies provide environments where the intellectually disabled not only can nurture relationships, but also gain self-esteem and artistic, social and athletic skills.
The three programs are funded in part by Porto Caravan No. 104, a fraternal Catholic men's organization dedicated to supporting the intellectually disabled.
Pat Hammeke, who has been involved in Northern Virginia Special Olympics for 25 years and currently serves on the board of directors and as a soccer coach, has watched his children thrive in the program.
Northern Virginia Special Olympics serves Arlington and Fairfax counties and Alexandria and has around 12,000 athletes and 800 volunteers, according to Hammeke. His daughter, 33, and son, 28, both with Down syndrome, started competing at age 8, when youths are eligible to join. There is no upper-age limit to participate in the 20 sports offered.
Special Olympics presents the challenges of life,” said Hammeke, a parishioner of St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Fairfax. “Athletes have to train, work hard. And team sports teach them how to depend on their teammates. And it also teaches them about losing. “In the context of sports, training and competition, athletes learn a lot,” he said.
While sports offer a field, court or pool for those with intellectual disabilities to grow, ArtStream provides a stage. Founded to serve the Washington, D.C., metro area in 2005, its mission is to create artistic opportunities for individuals in communities traditionally underserved. The organization’s philosophy, states its website, it that the “transformative power of the arts should be available to everyone, especially those who are challenged by disabilities or life circumstances.”
Patricia Woolsey, co-founder and executive director of ArtStream, currently directs the ArtStream Arlington Inclusive Theatre Company, which started in 2006. ArtStream has two acting companies in Virginia and three in Montgomery County, Md. Each company has 15 actors and three to five mentors who act alongside them.
The actors are “intrinsic to the development of the shows,” said Woolsey. They audition for parts, vote on ideas for the plays and help create much of the script. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax will host an ArtStream performance Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. Woolsey said the theater company touches the lives of actors and audiences alike.
The program “challenges the actors; it challenges the family members to see what they are capable of; it challenges the audience to see what (the actors) can do and what they can create.”
The actors grow as thespians while “they grow as people,” she said. And “audiences are moved.”
Coles also spoke of the transformative potential of organizations for the intellectually disabled — for participants and for the community. Best Buddies was founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver and through programs in 44 countries worldwide seeks to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships, employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Best Buddies Virginia has programs in seven colleges, 15 high schools and one middle school. There are current plans to expand, including to eight additional middle schools.
“There is a changing climate,” said Coles. “Those who are (intellectually disabled) are no longer in social shadows.” She said the prejudice and discomfort people sometimes feel around the intellectually disabled is not usually ill-intentioned and there was never an intentional movement to exclude them. But stereotypes and discomfort form, she said, when people have not had the opportunity to interact with those who are different.
Yet “as soon as there is an opportunity to develop friendships, to nurture relationships, the invisible line is removed,” said Coles.
Best Buddy volunteers are asked to call, e-mail or write to their buddy once a week, to see each other once a month and to participate in a monthly group activity.
Through such interactions, friendships are not forced, they are allowed to develop naturally around shared interests and spending time together, Coles said. And the mutual understanding cultivated in Best Buddy relationships can have a profound ripple effect on the surrounding community. Volunteers share their sensitivity in their classrooms, homes and offices, said Coles.
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde designated October Disabilities Awareness Month along with Respect Life Month. And through programs such as Special Olympics, ArtStream and Best Buddies, those in the diocese with intellectual disabilities live fuller lives — and reaffirm the rich diversity and sanctity of all human life.
On the web:
From L to R: Bernadette Poerio, Arjun Hemphill, Sarah Pierson, Lois Driggs Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin, Kevin Bennett, John Craig, and Daniel Chait.
Freshman Bernadette Poerio and her Best Buddy John Craig have spent a lot of time together over the past semester, but never in the United States Senate offices.
The two members of the CUA chapter of Best Buddies International represented Virginia College Buddies at a reception commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy Thursday.
They joined representatives from other Best Buddies programs and the Special Olympics, as well as politicians and family members, in a tribute to the legacy of the Kennedy family.
"I was shocked and pleasantly surprised [to be invited]," said Poerio, who was paired with Craig at the beginning of the semester.
Fifty years ago on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn into office as the 35th President of the United States. A Congressional tribute Thursday was followed by the reception in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Building.
Reception guests watched the Congressional tribute broadcast live from the Capitol Rotunda in the Kennedy Caucus Room and were then joined by many of the featured speakers for the reception, including Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin among others.
The Kennedy family's long legacy includes work with many causes, in particular the groundbreaking contributions of Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, an international organization and annual competition. Shriver, who died in 2009, was renowned for her work in promoting the dignity and talents of the disabled.
Following in her footsteps, her son Anthony Kennedy Shriver founded Best Buddies International in 1989. The organization pairs volunteers in one-on-one friendships with those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Over the years it has grown to nearly 1500 chapters worldwide. Its programs include College Buddies, High School Buddies, Buddy Ambassadors, Peer Buddies, and E-buddies, an online buddy program. Buddy pairs build lasting friendships that help break down the barriers and stereotypes facing the developmentally and intellectually disabled community.
The reception also included two other buddy pairs from Virginia representing Best Buddies.
"They picked outstanding buddy pairs who represent all of our different programs," said Jan Rivas, Program Supervisor of Best Buddies Virginia. She called Poerio's and Craig's selection "a real privilege."
CUA's Best Buddies chapter is a recent addition to Best Buddies Virginia, which this year merged with all DC Best Buddies chapters.
"We are so excited to have the DC schools," Rivas said. "The area has some really good chapters."
After completing an application and having a personal interview, students are paired with a Best Buddy at the beginning of the school year according to their interests and personalities. They commit to building a friendship with their "Buddy," which includes contacting them weekly and spending time with them at least twice a month. Official friendships can last for all four years of college, and unofficially last much longer.
"I wanted to pick one organization while I was at college that I would become heavily involved in and this is the one that I chose," said Poerio whose cousin is severely autistic. "The idea of it just spoke to me. I had never even heard of it before I came here," she said.
John Craig, 49, has been an active member of Best Buddies nearly since its inception, beginning as an e-buddy with Anthony Kennedy Shriver. He has had many student buddies over the years, but clearly the match with Poerio is one of his best.
"We make a good pair don't we?" he said. "She's a really good buddy." This is Craig's second year as the CUA chapter Buddy Director.
For Poerio, the most rewarding part of being involved with the group is simply "spending time with all the buddies, especially my own best buddy." Craig interjected that Poerio also loves going to the meetings, which he helps to run on a monthly basis.
Erin Flynn has been CUA's College Buddy Director (CBD) for two years.
"I've learned so much from the buddies," Flynn said. "It changes your perspective."
Recently the CUA chapter has made a name for itself, winning the CUA Student Organization of the Year award in 2010. Last year it received seven nominations at the annual Best of Maryland Awards, winning the Most Improved Chapter Award and nominated for an Outstanding Chapter of the Year award.
Flynn said she is most proud of the chapter's participation in the annual Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, a national initiative to raise awareness about the hurtful connotations of the word "retarded" and to eliminate its use. The group will have tables in the Pryzbla Center and will host a university Mass and dinner on March 2 as part of the national campaign.
Flynn is also proud of some of the especially successful buddy pairs she has matched over the years. "You [may] think it's not possible to make a friendship," she said. But pairs like Poerio and Craig prove that it is.
Marshall High School students Mandy, Amy and Lauren Sibley have become fast friends through Best Buddies, a program that matches students one-on-one with their intellecutally and developmentally disabled peers. Credit Keith Loria
By KEITH LORIA
Every Wednesday afternoon, George C. Marshall High School sophomore Lauren Sibley gets together with her friend Carter, to talk, play games and just hang out --things typical of high school classmates.
"It's nice to have quiet and that close connection," Sibley said.
But if it weren't for the Best Buddies program, the two probably would have never met.
Carter, a special needs student, was matched with Sibley through Marshall High School's Best Buddies program, part of the global nonprofit Best Buddies organization that fosters one-on-one friendships between students and their intellectually or developmentally disabled peers. Marshall is one of 23 schools across the state that offers the Best Buddies program.
"You can see a student in the special-ed population who doesn't have any friends and as soon as you pair them up, you see them running around and saying 'Hi' to everyone, which is wonderful," said Sarah Pierson, the Best Buddies manager for Virginia. "They're not sitting alone at lunch anymore and they're getting phone calls. It's the normal high school experience."
As a buddy, Sibley has committed the year to a one-to-one friendship, which requires her to have weekly contact in the form of e-mails or phone calls, lunch days in the cafeteria together, group activities with other buddy-pairs and just being a good friend.
"The positives of this program is that it helps you be a more accepting person," she said. "You see they are not different than us. They are just regular people who are lonely at times, and it makes me feel so good to be doing something and being a friend to them."
On Nov. 22, the Best Buddies program held its second annual potluck dinner at the school. Parents, faculty and buddies enjoyed a night of getting to know one another. There are 15 buddies paired at the school, and another 45 associate buddies who aren't paired one-on-one but still help with meetings and activities.
"We do this potluck to introduce the parents of the buddies and peer buddies to get the relationship started for the year, so we can develop some friendships and hang out with everyone after school," said junior Carrie Zettler, president of the Marshall chapter of Best Buddies. "This night has been a big success and we hope to continue this into the future."
Sophomore Mandy Kousen said she has been involved with helping special education kids all her life and is thrilled to be a part of the Marshall program.
"I heard about this organization and fell in love with this program," she said. "This year I have a friend named Sheridan and she is a blast to be around and I enjoy hanging out with her and seeing her smile."
The buddies will also get together as a group for events like cookie decorating or to attend movies or sporting events outside of the school.
"It's a lot of fun to hang out with everyone and have a good time," junior Ryan Medrick said. "It's important that everyone feels like they belong to this school, and I think this helps that happen."
In 2001, Best Buddies International (BBI) made a commitment to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities around the world by setting a goal to expand our programs into 50 countries by the end of 2010. On January 11, 2010, Best Buddies will kick-off a 50-week Social Media Campaign celebrating the victories we’ve achieved in each of the 50 Best Buddies countries - We Are Best Buddies: Join Our Global Movement!
Each week, a story and photo gallery will be posted on Facebook, Twitter, and our Blog, highlighting the accomplishments of one of Best Buddies 50 countries. We will kick off the 2010 campaign with Best Buddies United States, which will include a personal story from our founder, Anthony Kennedy Shriver. These weekly stories will feature behind the scenes views of program launches, changes in country laws, community views, exciting outings and activities, all through the eyes of the passionate people who brought the Best Buddies movement to their respective countries.
Participate in the Best Buddies Global Movement!
Best Buddies will be holding weekly contests on the BBI Facebook page where followers will be asked to share their personal Best Buddies stories, photos, videos, and pictures that relate to a weekly theme, which will be announced every Monday. Contest winners’ entries will be shared every Friday and awarded a limited edition weekly prize, including a kick off prize - an all expenses paid trip to Miami, Florida and lunch with Best Buddies International’s leader and founder, Anthony Kennedy Shriver!
Miami, Fla., (November 2, 2009) – Benihana Inc., the nation’s largest chain of Japanese theme and sushi restaurants, is inviting guests to join their knife-wielding, entertaining chefs at their famous Teppanyaki tables to celebrate the season and give back. Throughout the month of November, Benihana will donate 100% of proceeds from the sale of bottled FIJI Water at all 76 U.S. restaurant locations to Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization with a mission to change the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Guests may also donate $5 to Best Buddies by texting "BEST" to 501501 for a chance to win Benihana merchandise, gift cards or a trip for two to the biggest game of the season held in Miami, Florida.
"Guests come to Benihana to celebrate and enjoy good food and company," said Richard C. Stockinger, chief executive officer, Benihana Inc. "We are delighted to partner with an organization like Best Buddies International that also fosters fun and friendship."
"We are thrilled that Benihana and FIJI Water are supporting Best Buddies' mission of providing friendships, jobs and leadership opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and encouraging others to do the same," said Anthony Kennedy Shriver, founder and chairman of Best Buddies International.
Benihana Inc. (NASDAQ GS: BNHN and BNHNA) is the nation’s leading operator of Japanese theme and sushi restaurants, with 64 Benihana, 25 RA Sushi and nine Haru restaurants. Famous for its entertaining chefs who present and prepare delicious Teppanyaki entrees at hibachi tables, as well as sushi and other Japanese favorites, Benihana introduced Japanese food to America in 1964. RA Sushi offers a subtly sexy and energetic experience with a hip ambience, and Haru is an urban, upscale sushi concept. In addition, twenty-two franchised Benihana restaurants operate in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.
About Best Buddies International
Best Buddies® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrantorganization that has grown from one original chapter to more than 1,400 middle school, high school, and college campuses worldwide. Best Buddies programs engage participants in each of the 50 United States. We have accredited programs in 44 countries, with additional ones under active development. Our six formal programs – Best Buddies Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens,e-Buddies and Jobs – positively impact more than 400,000 individuals with and without intellectual disabilities annually. As a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, and make lifelong friendships. For more information, please visit www.bestbuddies.org.
About FIJI Water
FIJI® Water, natural artesian water bottled at the source in Viti Levu (Fiji islands), is the #1 premium bottled water in the United States and one of the fastest-growing brands worldwide. A product of one of the last virgin ecosystems on the planet, natural pressure forces FIJI Water out of its aquifer deep below the earth’s surface and into iconic square bottles through a sealed delivery system free of human contact. FIJI Water’s unique mineral profile lends to its refreshing taste and soft mouthfeel that have made it a favorite among top chefs and the winner of taste tests by Chicago Magazine, Cook’s Illustrated Buying Guide, Men’s Health, Every Day with Rachael Ray and others.
FIJI Water is widely available at fine restaurants and hotels, all major retail channels including grocery and convenience, and through an innovative home delivery program. Following the success of the flagship U.S. business, FIJI Water has expanded to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Asia Pacific, where the brand’s iconic square bottle is increasingly visible at leading on-premise and retail establishments.
MIAMI, FL July 27, 2009 The Best Buddies chapter at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia was presented with the 2008 Outstanding Chapter Award at Best Buddies Internationals 20th Annual Student Leadership Conference, July 24-27, 2009. Chosen from more than 800 Best Buddies high school programs and 80 Outstanding Chapter applicants, George C. Marshall High School was chosen as first Runner-Up for Overall Outstanding Chapter for its dedication to the Best Buddies mission.
Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated toestablishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Leadership Conference prepares student leaders to operate the Best Buddies chapters at their schools, which involves recruitment of new members, planning group activities for their chapters and promoting of the social integration of people with intellectual disabilities in their communities.
Nearly 800 students, representing Colombia, Denmark, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Spain, and the United States, traveled to Indiana University to participate in the four-day conference. Working under the theme of We are Best Buddies, these students, selected for their active leadership roles within Best Buddies, attended a series of interactive workshops focusing on leadership development, community service, civic responsibility, intellectual disabilities and volunteerism. For the first time in Best Buddies history, portions of this years Leadership Conference was streamed live online.
Best Buddies International celebrates the efforts of our exceptional high school and college chapters, which have developed incredible one-to-one friendships and strengthen the Best Buddies mission in their schools, said Mia Mulholland, Director of Programs for Best Buddies. Each chapters creativity, dedication and hard work play an important role in furthering the social inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities within their communities and around the world.
About Best Buddies International
Best Buddies is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated toestablishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to more than 1,400 middle school, high school, and college campuses worldwide. Best Buddies programs engage participants in each of the 50 United States. We have accredited programs in 44 countries, with additional ones under active development. Our six formal programs Best Buddies Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies and Jobs positively impact more than 400,000 individuals with and without intellectual disabilities annually. As a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, and make lifelong friendships. For more information, please visit www.bestbuddies.org.
by BRADFORD PEARSON
Gazette.Net | Staff Writer
December 17, 2008
Erika & Valerie, buddy pair from magothy River Middle School, walk the red carpet.
When the 60-plus members of Walter Johnson High School's Best Buddies program gathered for a group meeting Friday morning, they expected a usual day.
What they got was anything but.
While the students drew holiday cards for troops overseas, the door opened and in walked Miss USA Crystle Stewart, her white "Miss USA" sash gleaming in the classroom's fluorescent lights.
After a chorus full of "Oh my god" and "Wow," Stewart sat and chatted with students, viewed their cards and fielded questions.
"I liked her because she thought my dance was cool," said freshman Peter Mullin, after performing a hula for Stewart. "I think Miss USA is pretty awesome."
Best Buddies is an international group aimed at connecting intellectually disabled and mainstream students together for friendship and group activities. The group was founded by Potomac native Anthony Kennedy Shriver in 1989. There are more than 1,400 chapters worldwide.
Stewart was in town for a statewide Best Buddies event in Rockville last weekend, according to Best Buddies Maryland State Director Christian Metzger, and the group thought it would be a good idea to show her some of the state's best chapters.
The Miss USA pageant has a working relationship with the Best Buddies program nationwide, Metzger said, but Stewart also has a personal connection to the group.
Before she was Miss USA, Stewart was a teacher for autistic students in Texas, and also has a learning-disabled sister.
"If I can just pay one visit to these students and brighten up someone's day, I've done my job," she said after meeting with the students. "I probably do more Best Buddies events than other Miss USAs, but it's because of my personal story."
In addition to Stewart, two Miss Marylands were also in attendance: Miss Maryland 2008 Casandra Tressler and Miss Maryland 2009 Gabrielle Carlson.
"It was awesome," said senior Eli Lewis, of meeting Stewart. "She said she liked my card … she's good, good, good."
Walter Johnson Best Buddies chapter president Yasmin Radbod was one of the few students who knew about Stewart's plan before her arrival. She said having a celebrity meet with the group was good for morale.
"When a guest like this comes, it shows that they care," the 16-year-old senior said. "It's just phenomenal, and brings the whole group closer together."
Stewart also visited Centennial High School in Ellicott City later on Friday. Metzger said the schools were chosen because they both had "outstanding chapters."
In Sept. 2007, the Walter Johnson group was named as the most outstanding Best Buddies chapter in the world by Best Buddies International.
by KATIE RODGERS
The News Journal
December 14, 2008
The News Journal/GARY EMEIGH
Joe Walker (clockwise from top), Brianna Vascos, Alice Murphy, Josh Guessford and Mitchell Moore are members of Dover High's Best Buddies group. The chapter, which pairs a special needs student with a high school peer, has more than 40 members at the school.
DOVER -- This fall, Joe Walker, a 19-year-old special needs student at Dover High School, made a new best friend, Mitchell Moore.
My favorite thing is to be in school and hang out with my man Mitchell," Walker said. "We like the same things -- he's like my brother."
Moore, a freshman football player, and Walker met through the Best Buddies Organization, a new program at Dover High to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing them with one-on-one friendships. The program is the first of its kind in the state.
Walker and Moore both said their friendship is real and meaningful to them.
Moore said they eat lunch together every Friday at school, where they talk about sports. Walker also likes to watch Moore play football, and they plan to go bowling together soon. Moore said his favorite part of the program is spending time with Walker, who has taught him to be more open-minded and caring.
"All my life, I've always thought about myself, sports and school, and I just wanted to do something for somebody else and make their life better," he said. "Joe has taught me not to judge people by their appearance. It's not about what they look like or what they wear, or what type of disability they may have, it's about who they are."
Junior Josh Guessford worked with teachers Pam Johnson and Wendy Reed-Ridgeway to bring the Best Buddies program to Dover High because he wanted a program that would help to unite special needs students and their peers.
"We are all people, we all have emotions and everyone needs a friend," he said. "It's showing the entire school and people in our community that this is true."
The students are partnered according to surveys they fill out regarding their interests, hobbies and extracurricular activities. The Best Buddies Dover chapter has more than 40 members, some of whom still are waiting to be paired up.
The program meets once a month after school for the buddies to attend group activities and chapter meetings. The buddies commit to talking weekly and spending time together inside and outside of school. Reed-Ridgeway said the program has been beneficial to both sets of students, and genuine relationships have been formed.
The Best Buddies program differs from other school clubs, she said, because of its emphasis on friendship and respect.
"It makes me feel good to watch the variety of kids working together so well," Reed-Ridgeway said. "I love watching them laugh. It helps them understand that even if you are different, or don't have a lot of friends, you still need to be treated the same."
Junior Brianna Vascos said she decided to participate in the Best Buddies program to work with special needs students. She enjoys spending time with her buddy, Alice Murphy, 18, and likes to bring her cupcakes and cookies at school.
"I can't help but to be friends with her," Vascos said. "It has helped me to be more of a positive person and accept everything. I am who I am and she is who she is, and no matter what, we have to accept each other."
The girls are planning a trip to the mall soon and also are looking forward to a bowling trip with the rest of the group.
Reed-Ridgeway said the Best Buddies program will be a permanent fixture at Dover High.
"We have a lot of support from the school," she said. "The special education kids are really excited because they're not interacting with the regular education students all the time. To see a peer buddy is exciting to them -- their eyes light up. It's given them more confidence."
Thanks to the program and his new buddy, Walker said he enjoys coming to school every day.
"I can be the king of kings now," he said, "because I have school, my family and my friend."
"I am really blessed and lucky to be here," says David Gauthier of his City Hall job. Gauthier, who has cerebral palsy, was recommended by the nonprofit Best Buddies program. His duties have included helping organize Mayor Bob Foster's holiday food drive and helping staff prepare for council meetings.
Finding work when employers are shedding jobs is hard enough.
Imagine job hunting with a developmental disability. David Gauthier, who has cerebral palsy, says he put his challenges aside, as he has done all his life, when he applied to work for Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster.
"It's a position I want to succeed in," he says. "I want to show that anybody can do it."
The Torrance resident credits Maria Shriver with opening the door to City Hall.
Around the time of her Women's Conference at the Long Beach Convention Center, Shriver encouraged Foster to look at candidates from the nonprofit Best Buddies program, which matches employers with developmentally disabled adults. Her brother, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, founded the organization.
"Maria talked to the mayor," Gauthier, 41, says. "When the (state's) first lady asks you for a favor, you don't turn her down."
The mayor's office contacted the nonprofit organization.
"We depended on the Best Buddies program to find the best candidate," says Stacey Toda, an aide to Foster.
An interview with Gauthier followed. Toda and members of the mayor's staff found Gauthier articulate, polite, professional, organized, positive and eager, but also qualified to do clerical work on the 14 th floor.
After the required pre-employment screening, the mayor hired Gauthier.
"I have a badge," Gauthier says, proudly showing his City Hall identification, "and free rein of the whole tower."
His corner of the tower is a cubicle near the boss's office.
He works 24 hours a week handling newspaper clips, data entry, a weekly events calendar, mail, phones and the piles of business cards handed to the mayor. He recently helped organize Foster's holiday food drive and helps the mayor's staff prepare for council meetings.
"I am really blessed and lucky to be here," Gauthier says. "I'll never tire of this view. When I go into the conference room, and I see the Queen Mary, it almost takes your breath away."
Foster credits Shriver with having the foresight to ask him to look at hiring someone from Best Buddies.
"I am delighted with his work," Foster says. "It's really, first of all, nice to have someone who is always pleasant. When he's working, he's happy to be around people. He just brings a real terrific energy to work.
"We all tell each other we should be grateful for what we have, but here's someone who really is, and he makes the most of it."
Gauthier has had other jobs - casino cashier, truck driver and warehouse worker - but nothing like helping the man who, along with nine City Council members, runs the second-biggest city in Los Angeles County.
"I've really grown to love the mayor," he says. "It's so unlike the stereotype (of a) politician. He actually practices what he preaches. He drives an electric car. He drives himself to and from meetings instead of having his personnel do it for him."
Though he is pleased to help someone with disabilities, Foster says the city is getting something in return.
"He's producing," Foster says. "It's not charity. He's performance-driven."
Gauthier says he wants to smash the stereotype that people with cerebral palsy cannot work in white-collar environments. So many of his peers end up toiling in fast-food restaurants, retail stores and warehouses.
There's nothing wrong with those jobs, he says, but people with challenges can do more than what some "normal" people might believe.
That is why Best Buddies strives to place clients in "competitive" work environments, says Amber Coffman, a deputy director at the program's Los Angeles-area office in Culver City.
"We're trying to push the corporate envelope a bit," she says.
The organization has 28 clients working in the L.A. area, some at major talent agencies, law firms and corporations.
"Fortunately we get good candidates like David," she says.
Gauthier says he knows Long Beach well. He has been to the annual Grand Prix and, as a teenager, used to attend heavy metal concerts at the Long Beach Arena. (He points out that he also likes classical music.)
Aware of his condition, which is not progressive, he says that he is higher functioning than many people with cerebral palsy, which affects cognition and muscle control.
"I was one of the fortunate ones," Gauthier says. "It could have been a lot worse."
Though the mayor's office is nonpartisan, Foster is one of the better-known Democrats in the state.
Gauthier has political heroes in both parties. His views are partly shaped by how politicians treat the disabled.
He cites Shriver, a Democrat, and her husband, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, as heroes for their commitment to Special Olympics, Best Buddies and other programs.
He says he voted for John McCain because running mate Sarah Palin chose to give birth to, rather than abort, a baby she knew had Down syndrome.
"It's not in their nature to have any meanness," he says of friends with Down syndrome. "There's a lot of fear of (the disabled) in people who are normal."
He then lifts his hands, curls his fingers into quote marks, and says, "normal."
Gauthier knows that he works for a city with a good deal of poverty and social problems but says he sees potential here as long as residents do not give up.
"If you learn one thing from history, everything that's old is new again," he says. "I am sure of that. It will come back to its prominence."