Make a Connection is an ongoing series about organizations and programs that can help people with an intellectual and developmental disability achieve more and thrive in their communities.
Everyone can use a good friend. That’s what the Best Buddies
program is all about.
Best Buddies matches two people – one with a disability and
one without, who are roughly the same age. Both participants benefit through
ongoing communication and activities, and just hanging out together. In other
words, being friends. They might go a ball game or see a movie, and stay in
touch by texting. Throughout the year there are also organized, age-appropriate
group activities such as dances.
There are Best Buddies chapters across the country, even
internationally, serving elementary-age kids through adults. All are affiliated
with another organization that helps provides guidance and manpower. There’s
one at Concordia University Wisconsin, which is home to Bethesda College, a
two-year life/work skills program for young adults with disabilities.
Sam Bear, Adult Living Skills Professor at Bethesda College,
is a big believer in what Best Buddies can do, so much so that she’s been active
with the group for the last 16 years. She says it’s a natural fit with the
mission of the college, with participants developing extra social skills and
simply having a blast. “About 60 percent of Bethesda College students get
involved,” Sam said.
Concordia students who are matched with the Bethesda College
students benefit as well, said Dr. Linda Hensel, Concordia Department Chair of
Special Education. They gain friends and learn leadership skills by organizing
the chapter and activities. Attending these events and seeing the friends
enjoying themselves can be a moving experience. “It’s so beautiful – it’s an
example of genuine inclusion,” Linda said.
Interested in Best Buddies?
There are chapters in all 50 states and you can learn more
on their website. They are active on
social media, and here you can
see the Wisconsin chapter’s Facebook page. Looks like fun!
The signup process is straightforward. The program typically lasts a year but oftentimes the buddies continue as friends long afterward. If you’re not sure you want to commit, Best Buddies chapters are open to including nonmembers in their activities to check them out.
Parents and guardians should note that whether the program is a good fit depends in part on the level of socialization that your loved one is comfortable with. Like most organizations, COVID-19 has changed how Best Buddies operates, with many activities temporarily moving online for safety reasons. As COVID recedes, more typical activities will return.