by katherine stevens
It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 years old or 95 years young, everyone needs a best friend. Someone to call when you’re distraught, someone to bake cupcakes with, go to baseball games with and cram into photo booths with. Someone to appreciate you for being who you are. And hey, a little self-esteem boost never hurt anyone.
Best Buddies is a non-profit organization that realizes how important these friendships are. In 1989, Anthony Kennedy Shriver spearheaded the organization to bring people together… people that might otherwise not meet. Their mission is to enhance the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, mainly by helping them establish friendships and make connections with the non-disabled.
What happens is citizen volunteers get paired with people with intellectual disabilities. The pair, or “buddies,” hang out a few times a month. They go to Best Buddies events together, get to know each other and develop a mutually enriching friendship.
“Best Buddies doesn’t just give someone a person to hang out with,” says Julia Steffen, Program Supervisor of Best Buddies Jacksonville. “It gives them someone that they can call a friend and that’s something that everyone needs.”
Dana Sargent and her buddy Lissette were meant to be. Dana was working at Pine Castle, a facility that provides services adults with developmental disabilities, at the same time that Lissette was training there. But as life would have it, they had never met. Then, around 6 months ago, Lissette and Dana’s paths finally crossed in the courtyard of Pine Castle. Lissette pulled Dana aside and asked her if she would be her “best buddy.”
“At first you think that you’re doing something good for someone else, but in reality it’s a blessing for yourself,” says Dana. “With Lissette and I there’s no drama. It’s truly a friendship. She’ll come have lunch with me in my office or help me with work stuff. We have a great time together.”
Along with providing a shoulder to lean on, Best Buddies holds monthly events for the pairs. There was a Valentines’s Day dance in February, a trip to the Nutcracker Ballet in December and pumpkin carving in October. They also host Business Buddies monthly for young professionals to come together for a good cause.
The month of March is Best Buddies Month and Mental Retardation Awareness Month. So to celebrate, Best Buddies is hosting one of its biggest events, Best Buddies Day. This carnival-like occasion will offer game booths, dance-a-thons, entertainment and food. It’s being held at Memorial Park on Sunday, March 15th from 1- 4pm. Admission for the event is $5 for general admission and $10 for the dance-a-thon, which includes a t-shirt. Both types of admission include lunch.
People with intellectual disabilities are often excluded from society because of their disability. Best Buddies hopes to change the perception of people with intellectuaal disabilities through these friendships.
“The thing is, everybody has an ability, and it’s about focusing on what people can do,” says Julia Steffen, Program Supervisor of Best Buddies Jacksonville.
For more information on Best Buddies visit: bestbuddiesflorida.org or email: [email protected]
best buddies day
by katherine stevens