Best Buddies Champion of the Year Gala Returns Nov. 16

Writer  /  Stephanie VonTrapp, Louisville Athletic Club
Photography provided by Best Buddies Kentucky

As the daughter of two Special Education teachers, I often look for opportunities to advocate for those living with unique challenges. As the manager of a business, I have been able to partner with JCPS to provide vocational training for special education students and to become an equal opportunity employer. In college, I was a note-taker for those with disabilities and, as a result, developed life-long friendships with those differently abled than myself.

Recently, I was nominated to compete in a challenge for Best Buddies Kentucky, a local organization committed to connecting people like myself with those in need and am excited to share with you all an invitation to the upcoming Champion of the Year Gala and ways you can also participate. Best Buddies International is the world’s largest organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

More than 200 million people are living with IDD and, as a result, they contend with social, physical and economic isolation. Fifty years ago a movement was started to create a more inclusive society and to effect sustainable, thoughtful change to improve the lives of the disabled and differently-abled. Sister of President John F. Kennedy, Rosemary Kennedy, lived a lonely life of exclusion in an institution as those around her struggled to understand and adapt to her disability. Her sister, Eunice Shriver, frustrated with the lack of opportunity and justice for people with intellectual disabilities, created the Special Olympics in Rosemary’s honor.

The advent of the Special Olympics forever changed how the world views these special individuals and their unique gifts. Eunice remained a champion for equal opportunity until her death in 2009 and her son, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, continues his mother’s legacy of advocacy today through his own non-profit organization, Best Buddies International. Best Buddies works, with more than 1,500 schools internationally to create equitable relationships, both professional and personal, between the differently-abled. Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities are all included in the IDD community served by Best Buddies. The three pillars of the organization are social mentoring, integrated employment and leadership development.

Through social mentoring people (often students) with and without IDD are paired to develop friendships that will provide meaningful connection, increased self-efficacy, increased self-confidence and increased self-esteem. The integrated employment program secures employment for those with IDD, allowing them to earn an income, support themselves, gain independence and pay taxes. The leadership development program provides opportunities for those with IDD to improve their public speaking and leadership skills and empowers them to become advocates for the IDD community.

The Best Buddies Kentucky Champion of the Year Gala will be held at the historic Gillespie on November 16. The Gala includes cocktails, dinner, a silent and live auction, presentations from Best Buddies Ambassadors and an opportunity to celebrate diversity and inclusivity with others as they crown the Champion of the Year winner.

This year’s champions are Dylan Kissack, Emily Bruenderman, Hannah Welch, Jane Rudnick, Lauren Wade, Merritt Robinson, Mike Sheehy, Trey Furnish and myself. Although this is a competition, the nominees are all advocates with a passion for helping others and everyone is a Champion as we succeed together.

There are several ways you can become involved and help Best Buddies continue its mission of inclusivity. You may purchase tickets to the Gala, make a donation either monetary or in-kind (Best Buddies is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization), purchase a sponsorship or table for the upcoming Gala, and you may donate or bid on items in auctions. No matter how you choose to champion the cause, you are appreciated, and your efforts make a difference. Thank you in advance for your consideration and generosity. For tickets, sponsorship or to make a donation visit or you may contact me at

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