Founder Anthony Kennedy Shriver created Best Buddies while in college, determined to foster one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). In 1989, Kennedy Shriver, realizing the volunteer potential of college students, encouraged his peers to join his cause. It was his ambition to expand the experiences of those with IDD what prompted the establishment of America’s first national, unified, social and recreational program for individuals with disabilities. The now global volunteer movement impacts nearly 800,000 people, and Best Buddies volunteers contribute support services equal to more than 168 million dollars, yearly. Since the inception of the original chapter, Best Buddies International has expanded to almost 1700 middle school, high school and college chapters, around the globe.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver.
Kenndy Shriver, a Georgetown Graduate, has been acknowledged for his work with diverse international accolades and honorary degrees. The nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, he continues his family’s dedication to helping others. President Kennedy founded the first President’s Committee on Mental Retardation and was the first head of state, anywhere, to receive a person with intellectual disabilities as an official guest. Anthony’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics, while her husband, Sargent Shriver, served as the first Director of the Peace Corps.
In the United States alone, close to five million people have an intellectual or developmental disability. According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) a person with intellectual disabilities has an IQ lower than 70-75, limitations in two or more adaptive skills with the condition present from childhood. Developmental disabilities are characterized as severe disabilities attributable to cognitive and/or physical impairments appearing before the age of 22, and likely to be lifelong.
Best Buddies consists of eight formal programs: Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, E-Buddies, Jobs, Ambassadors and Promoters. The Jobs Program targets white-collar jobs for people with disabilities throughout Florida, California, Massachusetts and Washington DC. The program prepares participants for employment, helping secure positions and providing ongoing job support and boasts high placement rates in comparison to other similar services. Other programs match individuals with disabilities to their peers, while E-Buddies provides a safe online forum for friendship building, and Buddy Ambassadors educates and empowers those with IDD to be leaders and public speakers.
In 2011, the organization began implementing a 2020 initiative that hopes to see significant worldwide growth. This project also includes plans to train 4000 buddy ambassadors, develop 1000 jobs for people with IDD and increase the number of school-based chapters to 2500.
On November 21, the 2014 Best Buddies Miami Gala took take place at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. The event, which raised a record 1.5 million dollars, included a fabulous cocktail hour, gourmet dinner, exclusive sales and a musical performance by Jon Secada. One of a kind item auctions included an exclusive Dwayne Wade Hublot Timepiece, a five-star trip to Bangkok and a Napa Valley experience package. The elite event also celebrated a Best Buddies expansion. “We are proud to celebrate Best Buddies’ expansion into Southeast Asia, where we hope to illustrate the true spirit of what this organization is all about to a greater number of individuals in this part of the world. Best Buddies is also thrilled to commemorate its 25th anniversary at this year’s (Miami) gala. The organization has made significant strides within the IDD community over the last 25 years, helping people with IDD secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friends. I have no doubt about the power of our programs and their importance in the lives of these individuals and look forward to continuing our work of changing the world for our special friends,” concluded Kennedy Shriver. ■