Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization with a mission to "establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)."
Best Buddies New York
Over six million Americans are living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). They have more difficulty learning, communicating, and functioning independently. “The goal of Best Buddies is to create opportunities for people with IDD to be involved in their communities, make new friends, and work alongside those without IDD,” says Kelley Faulkner, state director of Best Buddies New York. In 1989, Best Buddies International was founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver to foster one-to-one friendships between people with and without IDD through recreational and educational activities.
“The Special Olympics was started by Anthony’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, to highlight people’s athletic abilities,” says Kelley, “Best Buddies takes it a step further.”
One very active couple in Best Buddies is Gerry and Penney Klingman. They have been married for 29 years and involved in the organization for 23 years, nearly since its creation. “Penney and I are both involved in numerous charities, but the one that goes back the longest is Best Buddies. When I was in high school, I had a special relationship with a friend’s brother who had Down syndrome and I got very close to him,” says Gerry, who is president of Klingman & Associates, which supports many Best Buddies events. Gerry is also a member of the Best Buddies International board and Penney is a member of the New York advisory board.
The annual Best Buddies New York Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall is one of the events Gerry and Penney support. It showcases a wide variety of performers, both with and without IDD.
“At this event, you stop seeing disability and see the genuine dedication that these incredibly talented performers have in common,” says Kelley.
Being with those who have different skill sets and ways of seeing the world help you perceive yourself, your loved ones, and your own life in a richer and more diverse way. People tell us they benefit too from the patience, caring, and simple happiness that these relationships offer. “Best Buddies participants are truly positive, incredible people with an ability to change the environments they are part of for the better,” says Gerry.
Among the several support programs that Best Buddies offers is the Friendship Program, which matches buddies with and without IDD in middle schools, high schools, colleges, and communities. Through these relationships, participants develop skills that help them do better in school, work, and their other interests.
Some buddies go on to take leadership roles in their local Best Buddies chapters or speak at public engagements about the organization. “It’s so rewarding to hear individuals with IDD speak about how they used to feel isolated, but now Best Buddies has empowered them to feel they can make a positive impact on other people’s lives too,” says Penney.
Annual events, such as the Benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, the Best Buddies Challenge bike race, and the Best Buddies Friendship & 5k Run in Riverside Park, are always looking for committee members and team leaders to help out. This year, my brother Bert, who has Down syndrome, is helping me create a team of our family and friends to walk together. He asked that our team wear shirts with his name on it to honor how Best Buddies helped him grow into the confident man he is today. — Rejena Carmichael
Best Buddies New York