Ryan Kavanaugh believes in providing opportunities and care for all people. To that end, he offers support to a wide range of organizations, including healthcare researchers, artists’ initiatives to meet the needs of individuals in developing countries, and Best Buddies, which serves the needs of people with developmental and intellectual disorders. Best Buddies provides services for people with traumatic brain injury, autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, and more, including undiagnosed illnesses.
The Best Buddies approach rests on three pillars. The heart of the organization lies in creating meaningful one-on-one relationships between individuals with and without intellectual and development disorders. These friendships allow both sides to learn from each other while recognizing the humanity that connects all of us. Through friendship, the important feeling of belonging is fostered.
The second tier of the Best Buddies mission is integrated employment. By connecting the people it services with meaningful jobs, Best Buddies helps these individuals feel important and involves them in the community.
The third pillar of Best Buddies’ approach to services involves leadership development. This important initiative is aimed at people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as their allies. The organization’s programs help individuals learn how to become community organizers and public speakers so that they can advocate on behalf of the needs of the community.
A Look at the Best Buddies Ambassadors Program
The Ambassadors Program is designed to provide individuals living with disabilities the chance to refine their public speaking skills and build the confidence and self-esteem that is necessary for successful advocacy. The trained ambassadors represent themselves, as well as their peers and their larger Best Buddies program in their communities, before government bodies, and in the workplace.
When a Best Buddies participant decides to enter the Ambassador program, they gain access to various group and private training efforts that emphasize speech writing and public speaking skills. However, conversational speaking is also important so that participants feel prepared to have one-on-one conversations about the disability rights movement with decision makers and influencers.
All Ambassadors are paired with speech coaches who help them write, edit, and practice speeches while providing personal attention. Trained Ambassadors collaborate with Best Buddies staff members to identify appropriate public forums in their communities. Then, they share their stories with donors, special interest groups, legislators, business leaders, and more.
As Ambassadors continue to work in the community, they have access to ongoing training sessions to improve their skills and address any weaknesses that they may identify in themselves. Over time, as Ambassadors gain more experience, they may become State or Global Ambassadors, which involves speaking at national and international events on behalf of the organization.
Becoming an Ally and Advocate Through the Promoters Program
The aim of the Best Buddies Promoters program is to transform youth into advocates for people with intellectual and development disorders. Ultimately, these Promoters raise awareness in their communities and organize special events that will help create new chapters and programs for the organization.
All students who attend a school with a special education program are eligible to join the Promoters program through a local chapter. Once they join, participants are expected to develop deep connections with people with disabilities. Individuals who want to participate but do not have a local Best Buddies chapter should contact their state’s Best Buddies offices to begin a new one.
Promoters chapters maintain responsibility for hosting events, creating engaging activities, and organizing fundraisers on behalf of Best Buddies. Through these events, participants educate the public about the Best Buddies mission and the importance of inclusion in the local community.
Each chapter must host at least four events and activities each year, but these programs can be held either on or off campus, and Best Buddies officials are available to help guide event organization. Promoter chapters are led by a member of the student body and a Faculty Advisor. In addition, each chapter has a specific Best Buddies staff member that provides guidance and oversight.
Other Ways to Become a Best Buddies Advocate
Individuals who do not have the time to dedicate to the Promoters Program, or who are not linked to an eligible school, have a number of other options for becoming advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Advocacy can be as simple as a social media post about relevant policy or Best Buddies programs.
The organization also provides a range of profile pictures that individuals can use to spread awareness. Individuals can also meet with local businesses to talk about the importance of hiring people with intellectual and development disabilities. Best Buddies provides key research about tapping into this community to help make the most convincing argument possible.
People can also pledge their commitment to the cause through initiatives like Spread the Word to End the Word, I’m in to Hire, and the Arc’s efforts to stop violence, abuse, and bullying of individuals with disabilities. More information is available online at BestBuddies.org.