“It is a shame that difference seems to divide us, people, so much, but Best Buddies helps to promote similarities and the human aspect of living a full and happy life,” says Laura Bailey, the volunteer recruitment co-ordinator at Best Buddies Canada.
“I personally believe that Best Buddies is a great opportunity to grow as a person who has a more open mind and loving heart. I think that more people should be involved in Best Buddies because it adds to a greater acceptance and understanding in our communities of people in general,” states Bailey.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver founded Best Buddies International in the United States in 1989. Best Buddies then established its first Canadian chapter in 1993, and Best Buddies Canada was incorporated as a registered national charity in 1995. With about 1,500 national volunteers and about 220 in Quebec, Bailey says the number grows each year.
What is the goal of Best Buddies Canada? To match up cegep or university students with adults who have intellectual disabilities based on similar interests and to allow for a one-on-one relationship and eventual friendship to blossom. It strives to teach the public that people with intellectual disabilities are not lesser individuals.
Also referred to as a developmental disability, an intellectual disability is “a term used to describe any condition that includes a life long impairment to a person’s ability to learn and/or adapt to their environment.” Intellectual disabilities do not necessarily have a recognizable condition and are also not always accompanied by a physical disability.
According to Best Buddies Canada, about 900,000 Canadians have intellectual disabilities, three out of every 100 children are born with some degree of intellectual disability and 80 per cent of individuals who have an intellectual disability live with a family member.
Through being a Best Buddies volunteer, one can make a difference in someone’s life by showing love and acceptance. Volunteer work is flexible since it consists of a weekly phone call and two outings per month. Furthermore, all the buddy pairs at each chapter get together for four subsidized annual group outings.
“The commitment is not so tiring that it becomes a chore and the leadership opportunities such as campus co-ordinator or executive member also assists in gaining valuable transferable skills: time management, communication, a stronger sense of responsibility, patience, stronger listening skills, among other great qualities,” says Bailey.
Michael Todary, the 21-year-old campus co-ordinator of the Concordia chapter of Best Buddies, shares Bailey’s sentiments. “It’s very rewarding to see what difference you’re making in their life. When you call someone, they smile all night because they’re happy someone was thinking of them,” says the third year engineering student.
In existence for two years now, Best Buddies Concordia will have 12 match-ups this year. The adults with intellectual disabilities are from the Miriam Home that has been offering services for children and adults with intellectual disabilities here in Montreal since 1960. There is a screening process though for volunteers, and one must fill out two reference forms and agree to a police check.
As for Todary, this is his first year as the campus co-ordinator. The year before he was a volunteer best buddy and matched up with someone who also loved sports; the two were able to watch Concordia games together. He is now matched up with 52-year-old Morty Lighter, who loves bowling.
Lighter, who has been involved with Best Buddies for seven years and has been part of a bowling league for 35 years, considers Best Buddies to be a blessing. “It’s a better life with the buddies because they come to take us out to restaurants and games, and we go to the movies,” he says. “It’s fun all around.”
Furthermore, this is Lighter’s first year as a Buddy advocate working alongside Todary, which he is enjoying. According to Todary, a buddy advocate is a functional person with an intellectual disability who helps the campus co-ordinator by representing the intellectually disabled.
While Buddy pairs are matched up for a year, Todary admits the fun does not stop there. “A lot of the time after we match them up, people remain friends and call each other.”
When all is said and done, the Best Buddies program offers volunteers a rewarding experience. Bailey can testify to this because she used to be involved with Best Buddies at Wilfred Laurier University and learned that people with intellectual disabilities are just as dynamic as anyone else.
“I think that this volunteer opportunity is even more meaningful than others because everyone wins! The goal of the Best Buddies program is to make a friend. From friends, people get to learn and teach and help and care: all the positive qualities of being human,” she says. “By participating in this program, the student gets the opportunity to make a friend. Having one good friend is having a world of possibilities.”
If you are interested in becoming a Best Buddy volunteer, call Michael Todary at 298-1652 or by e-mail at [email protected] or to contact the Concordia chapter, email [email protected] For further information about Best Buddies Canada visit www.bestbuddies.ca.