Dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Best Buddies International has developed a global volunteer movement that provides opportunities for friendship, employment, inclusive living, and leadership development. The organization works closely with people with Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, Williams syndrome, Fragile X, and other disabilities. Worldwide, approximately 200 million people have intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Best Buddies program enables this population to feel empowered while providing them with an opportunity to explore their personal strengths and interests in a meaningful way.
The coronavirus pandemic rapidly changed the situation of many nonprofits, including Best Buddies. Prior to the pandemic, the organization focused heavily on facilitating interpersonal connections through in-person interaction. However, Covid-19 forced it to quickly adopt a new model in order to continue supporting vulnerable individuals experiencing physical isolation. Since the start of the pandemic, Best Buddies has successfully adapted its program to maintain a strong focus on its important mission and to keep its impact level high while safeguarding the health of its volunteers and the people that it serves.
Singer Helps to Raise Funds Through Music
Early in the pandemic, Best Buddies recognized the unique challenges facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization teamed up with pop singer Rebecca Black to create and release an original song titled “Alone Together” that recognizes the unique situation created by social distancing and self-isolation. Black teamed up with four Best Buddies Ambassadors with various intellectual and development disabilities to write and perform the song. The five talented individuals focused on the goal of uniting global communities in spite of physical distancing. Over Zoom, they shared their life experiences and sought to channel this energy into the song.
Black said that creating the song felt very much like hanging out with her friends during quarantine. In 2017, she became involved with Best Buddies. Since then, she has participated in several social events in Los Angeles and the annual Best Buddies Leadership Conference. “Alone Together” focuses on the theme of finding common ground and connection regardless of your physical location. The song is now available for purchase and can be streamed through all of the major platforms. All proceeds from the song go to support Best Buddies and its initiatives.
Events Aim to Help People with Disabilities
Prior to the pandemic, Best Buddies organized a number of fund-raising events that are no longer feasible due to the current situation. One of the organization’s key events is the Best Buddies Friendship Walk. Since this recurring event began in 2009, over 200,000 people in more than 50 cities have participated and collectively raised more than $21 million for the nonprofit. In June, Best Buddies hosted a virtual event to continue this tradition and to build a sense of community despite social distancing guidelines. The event, which represented the first-ever virtual walk organized by Best Buddies, was a success.
At the 2020 event, more than 2,500 teams comprised of more than 20,000 people participated in the walk. The event provided individuals with the opportunity to share videos and photos of themselves walking in their homes, neighborhoods, and other locations on their social media accounts. The success of this program is vital for the future of Best Buddies, as the money raised from the event goes directly to state programs and enables them to create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disorders. These programs are now available in all 50 states.
Conference Promotes Social Change
In July, Best Buddies converted its annual Leadership Conference to a virtual format. Over the course of more than 30 years, the conference has inspired countless people to effect social change in their communities. The event brings together volunteers, community advocates, and leaders from across the globe. This year, more than 4,300 student leaders—not to mention hundreds of Best Buddies staff members—joined the event. In addition, many celebrities made special appearances to show their support. The celebrities included Andre Drummond, Tom Brady, Rebecca Black, Lea Salonga, and Jason Lewis, among many others. Altogether, the participants represented 35 countries.
The virtual conference, which featured a wide range of educational opportunities, provided participants with an opportunity to learn from each other, which is important with such a diverse group of attendees. An interactive digital platform enabled attendees to participate in the various sessions, ranging from professional presentations to small group discussions. All of the sessions were designed to advance the disability rights movement. Best Buddies represents a global volunteer movement that aims to change the world for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.