ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The non-profit organization Best Buddies builds bonds through its friendship program between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“There are so many individuals that have a disability that you may not be able to see,” said Lindsay Jewett, director of communications and stewardship. “I think a lot of times we think of disability as we think of a wheelchair, we think of Down syndrome or we think of these things as so many different levels of disability that if we're not including everyone, then we're excluding everybody to some extent.”
Volunteers of all ages can become buddies. Caroline and Mariana found their match at school.
“I take improv at Nazareth College,” Best Buddies participant Caroline Hewitt said. “And since then, I met my buddy Mariana from Nazareth from acting. We have so much fun together, we laugh, joke and also she is my spirit in the whole world.”
The program even follows participants into their adulthood.
“What made me want to cultivate even a friendship with myself in the first place is I remember when I first had the meeting with Best Buddies Citizens,” said Best Buddies participant Jakob Wright. “His mom was talking and she said that it would really mean a lot for people to see me in public and see me in public with him and think that I'm not his caretaker or someone that's, you know, helping him or anything like that. I am his friend.”
The organization has not only provided buddies like Caroline and Mariana with life-long friendships. But has even taught its participants like Destiny several lessons along the way.
“She's just taught endless support and how to be a good friend,” said Best Buddies participant Destiny Kier. “I've taken so many lessons from her to become a better friend to my friends, because all the time she's always asking, 'are you okay? You're so pretty.' Always complimenting you — helping you up. And it's just that always, I always can look to her for a friendship, and I look to that for my friends, too, and to her.”
The program hopes it can spread awareness to end the social and physical isolation of those with disabilities.
“They look different, they talk differently, they might have a different gender or whatever it might be, and we're able to give them a safe space, especially for our young kids, especially in the world that we're in right now, it's so important,” Jewett said.
It also aims to spread the joy of being and having a friend.
Best Buddies is one of the world’s largest organizations dedicated to advocating for the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and officials say they are always open to any help they can get. To sign up for the Best Buddies program, or for more information, click here.