Best Buddies Citizens – The Next Chapter
Writer / Janelle Morrison
The Best Buddies Indiana chapters have been incredibly successful with their programs since Best Buddies Indiana was formally organized in 2001 under the visionary leadership of its founder Mary Delaney.
Today, there are more than 20 Indiana middle schools, nearly 50 high schools and 16 colleges that have active Best Buddy chapters. Since 1995, Best Buddies schools and colleges have paired students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in one-to-one friendships with peer students. In the past, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have not had the opportunity to have friends outside of their own special education classroom. Best Buddies Colleges also offers volunteers a unique opportunity to develop leadership skills. With the support of school faculty and Best Buddies staff, students and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities lead and direct the chapters in their schools.
Best Buddies Citizens is another program dedicated to creating one-to-one friendships between adults in the communities with and without intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD). Adults with IDD are the most underserved age group and are in need of programs, like Best Buddies Citizens, that encourage social inclusion and provide friendship opportunities. The friendships developed through the Citizens program are based on similar interests, personalities, age, and location to ensure quality friendships are being started through the program. Their friendships communicate weekly and get together on a monthly basis to hang out, go to movies, and grab a bite to eat, or whatever aligns with their interests.
Currently, Best Buddies Indiana has 15 buddy pairs and is continuing to receive applications every week. They are expanding rapidly in 2015 with hopes of opening three Corporate Citizens chapters where a company or organization would provide 10 employees to be matched in friendships with 10 members from the community with IDD. Their hope is to expand from the current 15 buddy pairs to a minimum of 40 additional throughout 2015.
“In my three years at Best Buddies, I think the Citizens program has to be the most impactful experience,” Hannah Dale, the senior program manager of Best Buddies Indiana, said. “The friendships that we’ve been able to introduce through getting to know every applicant as an individual are truly natural. The Citizens program has closed the gap on adult isolation and allowed for people’s voices to be heard for exactly who they are, not the labels that they have received. The impact is great on both the person with and without IDD. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of creating these introductions and watching these friendships grow.”
An inspiring example of a friendship made through the Citizen’s program is that of Kacy Wendling, deputy director of development of Best Buddies Indiana and Laura Krummen, a Zionsville resident and Zionsville Community High School graduate who participated in the Best Buddies local high school chapter.
“The process started with Hannah Dale, the program manager for citizens,” Wendling explained. “Hannah goes through an interview process with both sides, each pair and then matches based on similar interests. It is a process of detailing what you like to do and what you are looking for in a friendship and then she matches based on that. I wanted a regular friendship where we would go see movies, go out to eat, talk on the phone, etc. It isn’t different from what you would expect in any other friendship that you make organically through school, work or any other social interaction. Hannah matched Laura and I and then we went and had lunch to get to know each other. Laura’s mom, Julia was there too. It was a slower process in the beginning, we went out and got our nails done and had a great time. When we’re not together we talk on the phone and text.”
The matching process time frame can vary depending on the individuals. Best Buddies Indiana works to ensure that the matching process is really thorough. Wendling and Krummen waited two months before meeting one another. “Our paths would’ve never crossed without the Citizens program and I am so happy for that,” Wendling professed.
Krummen provided insight from her perspective on what the Best Buddies programs have meant to her since moving to Zionsville in 2005.
“I felt like it meant a lot,” Krummen said. “I got involved in Best Buddies when I moved here and then I learned about the new program called Citizens of Best Buddies and I am now the ambassador for Best Buddies. I would say that for anybody who wants to be involved in Best Buddies, they are more than welcome to. I want to go across the United States to tell everybody what Best buddies is and how it can change their lives.”
Winning the recent Champion of the Year contest and fundraiser, Wendling and Krummen have set the bar for other Citizen Friendships. Krummen is currently the Ambassador for the Citizens program. She recently attended ambassador training and has already been advocating for the program, maximizing her efforts during their Champion of the Year fundraiser at which she signed autographs that were then purchased by friends of the pair across the nation and the proceeds benefited the cause.
The ambassador training is one class and in that class the participants write a speech about their personal story that they can tell and use to advocate for Best Buddies and for people with disabilities.
“In that training there is a lot of leadership development to become agents of change and empower people with disabilities to spread the word and talk to anyone that they meet about our programs,” Wendling stated.
The Citizens program organizes a monthly meet-up as part of the program’s criteria. The Citizens friends are encouraged to meet outside of those events and have regular communication with each other. Their last meet-up took them to a Pacers game last month. Another big event is the Best Buddies Friendship Walk on April 26 and will be another great opportunity for Best Buddy pairs and Citizens friends to congregate and enjoy fellowship.
“It’s not just for people with disabilities,” Wendling emphasized. “I’ve never felt as accepted or included by a group of people who are so willing not just accept everyone’s differences but to grow with them. They embrace you for you and are so accepting of every person that’s involved. Abilities or disabilities, that’s not seen.”
The 14th annual Black and White Ball, held in March will be another major event and opportunity for advocacy and awareness for anyone interested in learning more about Best Buddies or are interested in getting involved at any level.
“Our annual fundraiser is one of our events that we host throughout the year that reaches a different audience than and event like our Friendship Walk,” Wendling said. “The gala reaches people who have been affected and have been touched by Best Buddies in some way. It is a more formal affair and there is a presentation where a buddy or buddy pair is always featured to connect with more people that aren’t necessarily engaged or currently active in our programs. It is a great way to reach more corporate organizations and businesses to advocate to about our corporate citizens model.”
The Black and White Ball – presented in part by Tom Wood Audi, Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine, Indiana University Health and NextGear Capital – raises funds to maintain and expand upon their existing programs and advocacy. The Best Buddies Indiana Black and White Ball will be held on Saturday, March 7 at D’Amore, located on top of the Chase Tower in downtown Indianapolis. Guests will experience a spectacular evening featuring live and silent auctions, a gourmet dinner, complimentary martini bar and live entertainment. There will also be chance to meet Buddy pairs, their incredible families and the inspiring people who are responsible for leading and growing Best Buddies Indiana.