#volunteering

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Best Buddies – An Excellent e-Volunteering Opportunity for High School Students

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Person on a laptop computer using video conferencing

Virtual Volunteering and You

If you want to gain volunteering experience – an excellent addition to any college application portfolio – summer 2020 seems like the worst time to do it. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many traditional forms of volunteering impossible. However, organizations around the world need volunteers more than ever. But how to do it safely?

This month, we at myKlovr are examining virtual volunteering opportunities in a two-part series. In this article, please review some virtual volunteering basics. In Part II, we’ll look at one organization, Best Buddies International, which has made virtual volunteering an integral part of its mission to help people with intellectual disabilities.

What is Virtual Volunteering?

As the name suggests, virtual volunteering allows you to help an organization without interacting with other people directly. How does it work? Well, that depends on an organization’s needs. Here’s are some typical examples:

  • Making calls to raise money
  • Writing or editing documents
  • Developing educational materials with a team of volunteers
  • Creating a video
  • Creating a website
  • Making social media posts to raise awareness

How Do I Get Involved?

When you visit an organization’s website, first determine whether they have a virtual volunteering program and if your talents match their needs. If so, send an email to introduce yourself and describe how you can help. Form your email like you would a cover letter.

If an organization does not have a virtual volunteering program, you can still contact them and see if they could use your services. Many organizations that rely on in-person volunteers are struggling right now, and they may bring you aboard if you have a convincing pitch.

How Do I Do a Good Job?

Virtual volunteering resembles the WFH (work from home) many professionals have been doing these last few months. The tasks are approximately the same, but working from home has its challenges. There are plenty of fun distractions, many of which exist on the very computer you use to volunteer.

Virtual volunteering success is two-fold. One, ask your contact to provide you with a solid deadline for your work. Second, create a schedule that provides some break times that are away from the computer or phone you use for volunteering. Until the workday is over, you want to keep your electronics – or at least some of them – for work only.

Another challenge that WFH poses to both employees and volunteers involves communication. If you receive an email or text that you don’t quite get, always clarify. It may feel a bit embarrassing, but many adults – me included – make mistakes when juggling emails with the tons of other things we’re doing online.

Can I Get a Reference?

Before we discuss references, let’s briefly talk about another advantage that virtual volunteering can bring to your college application portfolio. As you volunteer from home, keep track of all work you complete, especially if you’re creating products such as website copy or illustrations. A sample of one of these can make a great addition to a college application.

Back to the references. Just like asking your teacher for a reference, do so as politely as possible. To increase your odds of a great reference, make sure you communicate with your contact person effectively throughout your volunteering experience. Respond to emails in a timely manner and turn in work on time.

As your volunteering time wraps up, make sure to ask nicely and let them know that you’ll be in touch with details once you know which colleges you’ll apply to. In the meantime, send an email every so often to keep them person updated, and maybe ask if you can do anything else for them.

Final Thoughts

COVID-19 has made volunteering incredibly complicated but far from impossible. If you offer your talents to an organization that does some good in the world, they’re likely to accept your help. If you’re forthright and do your best every day, you’re likely to have a positive virtual volunteering experience that will set you up for college admission success.

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