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Best Buddies Programs Help People with Intellectual Disabilities Make New Friends

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.

Cultivating Relationships

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.

Expanding Horizons

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.

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Our goal is to ensure peace of mind for families and loved ones who are faced with the challenges of placing relatives in nursing homes and other treatment facilities. We offer a wide array of non-medical services tailored to the unique needs of the individuals we care for.