To celebrate National Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month this March, let’s take a look at the nonprofit, Best Buddies International. It is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Some of its programs empower people with IDD by helping them form meaningful friendships with their peers.
Because young adults with IDD are often isolated at home or in work environments, Best Buddies offers several options for one-to-one friendships. Typically, a person with a disability is paired with another person without a disability.
Best Buddies College Program
- The college program fosters one-to-one friendships between college students without IDD and their peers on campus or in the community with IDD.
- The Best Buddies meet two times a month.
- The program gives people with IDD a way to be involved in their local campus and community life.
- This option often involves having a service provider pair up with a college chapter of Best Buddies.
- In Philly, Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, and Saint Joseph’s all offer Best Buddies chapters. In eastern Pennsylvania alone, there are about 65 chapters, but many are for K-12 kids.
Best Buddies Citizens Program
- For adults with IDD who aren’t affiliated with a service provider and/or don’t live near an existing college chapter, Best Buddies in Pennsylvania also offers the newly launched Citizen’s Program.
- This program offers a more customized experience that involves a one-on-one friendship with an adult volunteer in the community.
- Typically, this program fosters friendships between adults with and without IDD in civic and corporate environments.
- Everyone involved—the potential peer (person with a disability) and peer buddy (person without a disability)—undergoes a background screening.
- While the Citizens Program offers opportunities to get together as a group from time to time, it’s primarily a one-to-one relationship where the buddy and peer buddy are advised to get together for a minimum of four hours a month and then stay in touch weekly, whether by phone or email. The frequency helps a natural friendship develop.
“We go to great lengths to match people based on common interests,” said Milli Protheroe, area director for the Philadelphia office of Best Buddies. It’s important for the people involved to live in the same community so the relationship can be easily sustained. They typically match people of the same gender.
She noted that the Citizens program is in the recruitment phase with 60 applicants so far. They are looking for people with and without disabilities to be a part of the program. Sometimes to simplify matching, Best Buddies partners with a business or organization. In Delaware, for instance, the Bank of America chapter holds a monthly brown bag lunch for its Best Buddies.
Exploring Philly Together
As a group, a Best Buddies chapter might hold a talent show, karaoke nights, or something as simple as a movie night. Sometimes the chapters coordinate with each other and throw a big field day or a Thanksgiving event as a way to bring people together.
The Best Buddies in college chapters are required to meet two times a month. One of those activities might be a group outing with the chapter. And the other might be a one-on-one outing.
Speaking from personal experience, Protheroe said she was matched with a buddy in the Citizens program. Each month they get together for something fun in Philly. They went to Penn Museum to see the sphinx exhibit. They’ve gone to movies like “The Greatest Showman,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Often, it’s a movie and then dinner where they discuss the movie. They’ve painted pottery. And she noted that there are lots of free things one can do in Philly. The art museum is free on Sundays. And there’s always something going on at Penn’s Landing and Franklin Square.
The relationships help people overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness, build their confidence, helps with life skills such as communication and conversation skills. The experience is “life changing for a lot of our participants both with and without disabilities,” said Protheroe. Being around people of varying talents and abilities can really enhance your own skills, she noted.
How to Contact Best Buddies
If a caregiver wants to get the individual they care for into a One-to-One program, you can contact a college chapter directly and try to make a connection. Or you can reach out to the Best Buddies office at 888.604.7376. And the office will try to help connect you with the right people at a local chapter or with the Citizens Program.
Safety: Security, Environment, Health
- Maintain a safe and clean environment that meets the physical, emotional, and personal needs of the Individual(s). Knowledge of crisis interventions, mental health diagnosis, and therapeutic relationships processes.
*Administers medication in accordance with medical provider directions and Casmir Cares Services /State of Pennsylvania policies (Medication Certified Residential Program only)
- Assist with and work to strengthen the individual’s many daily living needs including but not limited to: communication and socialization skills, nutrition, preparing proper meals, proper hygiene. Teach the Individual the importance of making his/her bed each morning, the importance of exercise by leading Individual in exercise routines when needed and weight control
- Assist in maintaining Individual’s well-being by keeping his/her home clean, safe and orderly.
- Gain and maintain knowledge of health and medical issues for all assigned individual(s) supported
- Assist individual(s) with healthcare visits, (*Medication-Certified Staff-Residential Program only) and behavior support plans (BSP)
- Assure Individual’s safety by observing and reporting any risk and notifying appropriate Supervisor/ Service Coordinator of any health concerns or needs for the individual(s)
- Follow all policies and procedures regarding the safety of the individual(s) in all environments
- Be a personal companion to the individual(s) and act as a helping hand serving his/her needs and working to build his/her independence
- While performing the duties of this job, employee are occasionally required to stand; sit, walk, use hands to finger, handle, reach with arms and hands, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, talk or hear, taste or smell.
- Must be able to lift and/or move at least 50-75 pounds
Programmatic: Choice, Active treatment, Community Resources
- Implement, demonstrate and teach specific skills as outlined in the individual support plans as written (ISP), Behavior Support Plan (BSP) and any other clinical aspect for the Individual.
- Obtain knowledge of individual(s) supported desired outcomes and works to ensure they are integrated into daily activities
- Provide assistance and support to individual(s) in activities of daily living
- Teach appropriate skills and involve individual(s) in meaningful and valued activities
- Provide and seek out opportunities for individual(s) to make choices
Rights, Dignity and Respect:
- Incorporate time, space, and opportunity for privacy in the life of individual(s) supported
- Maintain strict confidentiality of all personal information concerning individual(s) supported
- Understand, advocates and respects the rights of individual(s) supported
- Treat individual(s) supported, his/her family, coworkers and Supervisor/Service Coordinator with dignity and respect
- Demonstrate the importance of community involvement, social interactions, and maintaining relationships by engaging Individual in community activities and active treatment when in the home or community.
- Develop and facilitate community connections and relationships
- Assist individual(s) in developing and following a person centered schedule
- Aid individual(s) to participate in activities of their choosing
- Provides opportunities for activities in various settings and transportation as needed
- Encourage individual(s) supported to give back to the community
Customer Service and Excellence:
- Exhibit professional behavior towards the individual(s) supported, families, coworkers, and Supervisor/Service Coordinator
- Network with coworkers, the community and other professionals to find better ways to include individual(s) in routine life activities and community activities
- Participate in treatment meetings in keeping with the goals and practices of the Individual
- Willingly assist individual in activities of daily living including bathing, toileting and other self help skills
- Willingly support individuals with challenging behavior(s)
- While on shift staff must stay on site, any outings must be approved by Supervisor/Service Coordinator and documented properly
- Communicate with Supervisor/Service Coordinator, Individual’s Team and (*Individual’s family- HCBS Program only)
- Handle and maintain individual/agency finances ethically, honestly and accurately with appropriate documentation and receipts
- Provide clear, accurate and timely records and documentation
- Follow all agency policies and procedures
- Provide emergency coverage when requested by management
- Take initiative in performing additional tasks as needed or as assigned
- All Casmir Care Services staff are required to maintain a professional appearance that contributes to the image of the Individual, his/her family, visitor(s), co-worker(s) and stakeholders
- Provide positive and appropriate feedback to coworkers, team members, Supervisor/Service Coordinators and agency representatives
- Participate in and complete all periodic training(s) and certification(s) as required
- Keep personnel records up-to-date by providing updated ID, phone numbers and home address
- Report all concerns to the appropriate Supervisor/Service Coordinator in a timely manner
Mentor and train new staff to ensure that the workplace is a positive and productive environment (*Residential Staff Only)
- Attend and participate in all assigned meetings, sharing ideas, discussing issues openly and honestly
- Maintain confidentiality of records/information according to HIPAA, State, Federal laws and guidelines
- Report any instance of abuse, neglect, mistreatment and exploitation immediately to the appropriate Supervisor/Service Coordinator
- Display positive conduct in the community that enhances the image of individual(s) supported and the agency
- Be a compassionate, patient and encouraging support professional at all times; you are a caregiver and advocate for the individuals we serve
Job seekers are encouraged to attend an open house to learn about Casmir Care and the individuals we serve.
For Philadelphia resident Sharon Smith, working for Casmir Care Services is a family affair.
As a social service aide, she cares for her first cousin, Gerard, 44, and her brother, Eddie, who is 58. Casmir Care Services provides professional in-home and community care that helps enrich the lives of people with disabilities, individuals recovering from illness or injury, and adults with special needs.
Gerard recently received a Casmir Champion Award in recognition of his 10-year relationship with Casmir Care Services Inc.
Sharon is one of about 40 people who are both Casmir staff and family members.
“Working with Casmir Care has been very pleasant,” Sharon says, citing staff support and the community. When her brother lands in the hospital, they reach out to check up on him and her. “They’ve almost become like a family,” she says.
Gerard accepts an award from Chetachi Dunkley-Ecton, CEO of Casmir Care (left) and Godwin Nwoga, Dir. of Operations (right).
Structure improves quality of life
Casmir started caring for her cousin 10 years ago. A few years later, Sharon joined as a staff member. Before coming to Casmir, she had worked in the mental health field for more than 20 years, but helping her cousin was her first experience working with a family member. Casmir has cared for her brother for 7 or 8 years.
These days, Sharon helps both her cousin and brother with day-to-day needs, including bathing, laundry, groceries, and getting them out into the community. Since her brother wants to learn to read and write, she’s helping him on that front too.
Gerard is a bit more independent, although he still has the mindset of a child. And while people may have trouble understanding her brother, Sharon notes that his main problem is health problems like heart issues.
Before coming to live with Sharon, her cousin lived with his mother. Gerard was used to coming and going as he pleased and “doing his own thing,” she recalls. He would go to bed when he wanted. After his mother got sick and left, he came to live with Sharon, who provided structure that he wasn’t used to. For instance, she makes sure he bathes regularly.
These days, another clear improvement, she says, is that he doesn’t elope as often.
In the old days, he wandered off almost daily, sometimes getting beat up.
Sharon credits the structure and hands-on support from staff for making a difference. Gerard sees the same faces over and over. Three times a week, he goes to a day program that gives him a chance to be among peers, doing little jobs. And he sees a behavioral specialist once a week.
Really listen to what they have to say
When you’re a caregiver for someone with intellectual disabilities, Sharon says, really listening to what they have to say can be helpful. Treating people with disabilities as a person who has a point to make can help you serve them better, she says.
For example, Gerard dreams of driving tractor trailers. But because of his intellectual disability, this dream isn’t likely to become a reality. But there are ways to support and encourage his interest, says Sharon. She and others take him to go see trucks. Two of her older brothers are truck drivers who let Gerard sit in their trucks and mess with stuff in there, she said. And sometimes when they go to work, they take him along.
Listening closely to his desires and his wants, says Sharon, is a way to support his interests, because getting that input helps others support him in tangible ways.