Program areas at Best Buddies International
The Best Buddies International friendship programs match volunteers with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in one-to-one friendship matches through five unique programs: Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, and e-Buddies. Best Buddies has grown from a single college program, started at Georgetown University in 1989, and has grown to 3,021 global chapters, including elementary schools, and is active in 56 countries. At the start of the 2019-2020 academic year, Best Buddies was operating in 1,430 cities around the world and 465 counties in the United States. The flexible and adaptable enhancements that Best Buddies programs has provided will continue to support program expansion throughout the 2020-21 school year. New and improved websites, social platforms, and a broader commitment to connecting national peer leaders have focused efforts to empower volunteers to lead programming, develop expansion opportunities, and offer quality connection for all members. This has resulted - and will continue to influence - a positive evolution to the progress of Best Buddies programming worldwide. Best Buddies Citizens The Best Buddies Citizens program continued to evolve and expand in 2019 with growth in new markets around the country. Looking to the dynamic and thoughtful leadership of volunteers, Best Buddies has utilized community volunteers to engage and support matches, as well as recruit new members. The training, communication, and support of volunteers - all achieved virtually - has allowed expansion of the Citizen program in states without official Best Buddies offices, such as Colorado and Washington state. The success of Citizen chapters, which establish friendships between employees at a Best Buddies partner company and adults with IDD in the surrounding community, has proven to be an effective way to sustain programming with adults. Many new chapters are looking to the success of Citizen chapters hosted by their parent company in other states for support; for instance, employees matched in the Citizen Chapter at Kelly Services in North Carolina can connect with and brainstorm ideas with the matched members of the Kelly Services program in Michigan. The connectivity of volunteers has also helped with expansion into states based on experiences and recommendations of matched members. The strong support of volunteers has made an incredible impact with the nearly 8,000 volunteers in our adult programs this year, and will continue to offer solutions for growth into this coming year. Best Buddies Colleges Best Buddies' cornerstone program continues to expand with 550 active chapters worldwide. The colleges program has been instrumental in driving mission-focused awareness and promoting expansion opportunities across the country, specifically focused in new markets with targeted development efforts to achieve a new Best Buddies office. With a focused effort on identifying volunteer tracking from high school graduates this year, Best Buddies has made a concerted effort to expand programs at the college level, specifically at Historically Black Universities and Colleges. As Best Buddies looks to develop new programs, a concentrated commitment to diversifying participation in college programs has been a priority; it has also helped drive growth in areas like Georgia and western Texas where Best Buddies does not have a strong presence currently. Best Buddies High Schools Best Buddies High Schools continues to serve as the largest Best Buddies school program and expand most rapidly, much due to interest with opening new programs from growing elementary and middle school volunteers as well as overwhelming support from parents. With 1,356 chapters in 56 countries worldwide, the high school program also has the largest volunteer base with nearly 64,000 members. The ability to continually support and expand high school programs, especially with changes to in-person activities, has proven successful chiefly due to the online presence of the Best Buddies education, training, and engagement platforms. Best Buddies University, the website for all volunteers, offers an entire page dedicated solely to virtual programming, including online activities for buddy pairs, trainings to use virtual platforms, and resources and materials to provide ongoing leadership development online for chapter officers. Best Buddies Middle Schools The Best Buddies Middle School program is experiencing significant growth, primarily due to its position between the ever-growing elementary school promoters program and large high school program volunteer base. The middle school program successfully recruited 97 new schools at the start of the 2019-20 academic year, bringing the total number of global chapters to 525. The program has benefited from expanded trainings and resources, designed to support the unique relationships of middle school teacher advisors and young leaders with and without disabilities. These enhanced leadership trainings for middle school youth are unique, as many programs do not focus on leadership development at this age; thus, teachers and parents are excited by the depth of resources provided by Best Buddies. Chapter leadership, programing, empowerment, philanthropy, and retention has improved at the middle school level with advisors learning beneficial strategies to engage students with and without IDD in the classroom and provide inclusive programming in their school community.
Leadership Development Programs: Ambassadors and Promoters Best Buddies AmbassadorsSince January 2019 the Best Buddies Leadership program, Ambassadors, has successfully provided training for over 800 participants. The trainings focused on public speaking, networking, and conversational advocacy to share the mission of Best Buddies. In September the program added two new training modules: Parents as Ambassadors and Elementary School Ambassador. In addition to these new trainings, the Ambassador curriculum has evolved to include volunteer-lead options, including Train the Trainer, which empower chapter presidents, board members and volunteers to facilitate an ambassador training in their local communities, workplaces, and schools.At the close of 2019 the Ambassador team will select 15 new members to serve as a Global Ambassador for the 2020-2022 term. Individuals with and without IDD are selected to serve a two year term and are responsible for leading the mission in the following ways: develop partnerships in the community;?speak to state and national legislators about opportunities for people with IDD; recruit others to join the Best Buddies mission; give presentations at local and national Best Buddies events; continue their ongoing professional development through participation in specified trainings; and facilitate trainings for others with and without IDD. The outgoing class of Global Ambassadors will continue to serve their local communities and provide support to the new class. Best Buddies PromotersThe Best Buddies Promoters program continues to witness extraordinary growth with expansion into elementary schools worldwide. At the start of the 2019-2020 program year there were 590 chapters with nearly 11,000 volunteers involved. The program continues to see tremendous interest, especially at the elementary school level, as more school communities are looking to expand social impact opportunities for students in rural communities and private school settings. Significant interest and achievements in new markets, particularly growth in expansion areas in Georgia and Wyoming, have helped the program surpass growth goals. In 2019 the taskforce of staff and volunteers, including active elementary program advisors, developed programmatic resources, best practices, tools, and trainings for the elementary school program that were rolled out at the 2019 leadership training conference.
E-Buddies is Best Buddies' e-mail pen pal program that matches people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in one-to-one online friendships with peer volunteers without IDD. Volunteers range from 10 years old and up, with participants involved from the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Ecuador, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Uzbekistan. In 2019, e-Buddies served over 2,050 total participants through 1,097 unique one-to-one matches.The e-Buddies program witnessed an increase in youth participation after a concerted effort to enhance program involvement amongst young adults in 2018. This effort specifically targeted high school and college aged students with IDD involved in Best Buddies chapters as there has been an increased interest by volunteers without IDD, ages 18 to 22 years. With an additional emphasis on transition opportunities for Best Buddies participants in this age-range, the e-Buddies program - which offers literacy training, computer skills, and social opportunities in a safe and regulated environment - has been instrumental to teachers with students with and without IDD looking to develop these skills.