In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into Best Buddies International, an organization that supports individuals with intellectual disabilities. Best Buddies provides not only resources and inclusive living training but also One-to-One Friendships to those in need. These friendships involve pairing a volunteer with an individual Best Buddies serves.
The Best Buddies e-Buddies program allows volunteers of all ages to create a friendship with a person with disabilities. In this time when traditional volunteer opportunities are on hold, e-Buddies represents a great way for high school students to make a positive impact on someone’s life.
To learn more about Best Buddies’ mission and volunteer opportunities, I spoke with the organization’s Palm Beach, Florida, area director Tricia Williams. I believe that our conversation will convince you to reach out and make a new friend this summer.
Note: The author edited some responses for clarity and grammar.
Thomas Broderick: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about people with disabilities?
Tricia Williams: I think that the typical person is surprised at how much they learn from people with disabilities, as there is a misconception that we need to teach them. I have learned so much about compassion and resilience. Also, there are so many people with amazing skills at levels that others think they would not have because of their disabilities. I think of buddies who have amazing skills in accuracy fields, such as mathematics or measurement.
TB: Why is an organization like Best Buddies necessary?
TW: Best Buddies is necessary to help end the social, physical, and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Our programs empower people with IDD by helping them form meaningful friendships, secure successful jobs, live independently, and feel valued by society.
TB: What do your volunteers (students or otherwise) say that their main reason for volunteering is?
TW: The main reason is getting to know someone who they believe needs their help or assistance. However, they quickly realize they have so much more to learn from people with disabilities.
TB: If I were a high school student interested in volunteering in the e-Buddies program, what advice would you give me about how to be a good buddy?
TW: A good buddy is just another word for a good friend. I would suggest that this is a friendship like any other but like none other at the same time. Your buddy wants to know all about you, and you should want to know all about him or her. Put in an equal amount of effort into getting to know each other. We have so much more in common than we know and we will only find this out by asking each other, ‘What’s your favorite snack?’, ‘What NFL team are you rooting for?’, ‘Do you prefer TikTok or Instagram?’ It is also important to be responsive often. Remember that there is someone on the other end of that email. Your response might be what they look forward to most in their day.
TB: Are there any other organizations you’d recommend where high school students can volunteer online?
TW: As you understand more about the IDD community, find ways to advocate. Don’t participate in offensive social media that mocks our community. Try to understand the differences so you can celebrate the similarities. Special Olympic athletes are also sitting on the sidelines like you and your football friends are. Best Buddies chapters are offering virtual Ambassador Trainings (those wanting to learn how to advocate for the IDD community), or you can join our virtual events, including yoga & dance classes or online games.
Pandemic and social unrest have complicated everyone’s life. While we may understand why these negative events are happening throughout the world, some people with intellectual disabilities cannot. This inability can cause fear, anger, and isolation. In other words, people with intellectual disabilities need a friend more than ever right now.
Finally, remember that as you start your e-Buddy journey, a new friendship will not only improve someone else’s life but also your own.