Connecting Lives At Best Buddies

Best Buddies empowers individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  Best Buddies is active in 49 countries and 50 states. Photo: Jessica Fadel

By Jenna Lebovits

As humans, we’re wired to connect. So much so that our brains experience loneliness and social exclusion in the same biological way as physical pain. Good friends are good for our health, and the need for friendship is universal across all identities, abilities and groups.

Best Buddies International—a global nonprofit volunteer organization—aims to meaningfully connect children ages 5 and up by facilitating one-on-one friendships, providing teens and adults integrated employment and leadership opportunities, as well as offering inclusive living and family support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). “We’re the largest global volunteer movement in the world dedicated to ending social isolation for people with disabilities,” says area director of the Roaring Fork Valley Michelle Stiller. Best Buddies’ impact is far-reaching, with over 7,000 Coloradans receiving direct support from its Roaring Fork Valley chapter, and 1,288,010 impacted globally. 

Active in 49 countries and 50 states, Best Buddies is the only organization in the world dedicated to fostering direct, one-on-one social connections for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “When you have friends, when you’re included in your community, suddenly you feel courage,” says Rachael Fischer, Best Buddies state director in Colorado. “You might have the confidence to raise your hand, to participate and to bring your gifts to the table.”

The nonprofit hosts year-round community events, including Friendship Walks, outdoor summer camps and its beloved Starry Night Friendship Ball, which is akin to a high school prom. At this year’s dance, Stiller anticipated an attendance of 40. “We had about 200. And that’s when we knew that the Roaring Fork Valley was an inclusive place and ready for Best Buddies.” Music, much like friendship, is a universal language. “They want their favorite song,” says Stiller. “They want to dance, even if it’s in a wheelchair or on crutches with an aid, a helper or their mom.” To be the best possible friend and ally for people with IDDs, Fischer recommends the simple approach of person-first (emphasizing the person before the disability). “We all wake up human,” she says.

This year, Best Buddies in the Roaring Fork Valley is gearing up for its inaugural Champion of the Year: Gala en Blanc event, held on July 5 at the Hotel Jerome. The event will highlight members of the local community who’ve shown up for the mission of inclusion. Once nominated, they can choose to accept and are then given a fundraising goal. The event, if successful, will fund the nonprofit’s programs throughout Colorado for the year. In the spirit of playful competition, the Champion candidate who raises the most revenue for the organization will be recognized via press release, social media blasts, and forever included on the national website as a member of the Circle of Champions for Best Buddies.

“I had a parent, a mom who has been isolated, and who has daughters with disabilities, say to me—‘I had no idea there were other mothers like me. I had no idea there’s a community for me,’” adds Stiller. “And her daughter looked around and said, ‘I had no idea there were other people like me.’ And that’s what Best Buddies does; it brings people together.”