The Best Buddies Program: Lending a Helping Hand

by Taylor Waresh


There are plenty of people who are well-acquainted with that awkward stage anongst your teenage years, or of difficulties fitting in with your surroundings. It’s natural, something that people of all ages experience, and is almost unavoidable in the process of growing up. For most, it’s just a stage. But for some students, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (shortened to “IDD”), it’s much more than that. It’s a concrete block, something very hard to get over when there is no one lending you a helping hand or offering you friendly advice. Without it to help you warm up to your surroundings, life can seem very difficult.

That’s where the “Best Buddies” program comes in; it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-on-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with IDD.

When you first enter the Best Buddies organization’s website, you are greeted by the bright colors of a Keith Haring drawing that illustrates two figures with their arms around each other’s shoulders, surrounded by a blue sky and looking happy, despite their lack of facial features.

It is the icon of this organization, that simple but inspiring image whose colors stand out against the black and gray background. It is symbolic of the friendship and comfort that the volunteers who take part in this organization have to offer. This organization was founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver in 1989, and has come a long way since then. Undergoing many necessary changes over the years, it has expanded from one original location  to more than 1,500 locations in college, high school, and middle school campuses across the country (and even internationally).

Since its first chapter in 1989, Best Buddies has developed into an international organization of caring volunteers. The goal of this brilliant organization is to continue to expand locally, nationwide and globally, and to reach as many areas and people as it can.  However, it still has many cities, states and countries around the world to reach with its programs dedicated to helping integrate people with disabilities into society.

In the words of Francis Luisi, an active member in the struggle to install an edition of this program in more schools in New Jersey, Best Buddies is “a nonprofit movement to provide friendship, mentorship, employment opportunities and leadership development to people with IDD.”

He expresses his doubts and worries about the program, explaining that “there is not currently a Rumson, Fair Haven, Monmouth County, or even New Jersey presence,” except for in a select few high schools and colleges that include Holmdel High School, Princeton High School and University, Monmouth University ,and Rider College.

He also exhibits hope, citing that launching a Best Buddies chapter in this local area, both high school and outside of it, would bring tremendous value to people with IDD, the volunteers, and the community at large. Currently, there is an Advisory Board in Monmouth County created to launch the much-needed chapter. This board has been ‘spearheaded’ by Fran Luisi and assisted by Beth Giannotto.

This board and many others outside of it very firmly believe that building a Best Buddies presence in RFH, as well as the outside community, would not only carry a great value to our society, but would fulfill, develop, and nurture a sense of empathy within it.   It would also offer people with IDD a chance to fully integrate themselves, as well as withhold positive self esteem and a well-deserved sense of self-worth.

Luisi very insightfully stated that, “many schools, along with their faculty and students, are uneducated to the Best Buddies organization and the moral value it imposes for the entire student body and the community in general.” Once schools open their eyes and see the significance and worth that comes without much of a cost, it becomes a ‘no-brainer’ of a decision.

As Best Buddies plainly quotes on various pages of its website, “we are…possibilities, hope, cheerleaders, original, extraordinary.” You are allowed to fill in the blank after those first two words with whatever kind of adjective you choose. Volunteering to help people with IDD is not only enriching for them, but for yourself and your morality by making you a better person inside and out.

They need their voices to be heard, as do you, and it starts one school at a time.

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