Bound by Friendship: Best Buddies in Ohio

Best Buddies, the non-profit volunteer organization that unites individuals without disabilities with those that do, is developing a stronger presence in Ohio with plans for opening a state office by 2016.

Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is an international organization that has nearly 1,900 middle school, high school and college chapters in all 50 states and 50 countries around the world, impacting 900,000 individuals with and without disabilities worldwide. It creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Currently Ohio has chapters at The Ohio State University, Miami University, University of Dayton, Hamilton High School, Loveland Middle School, and Grandview Heights High School & Middle School.

Started in 2004, The Miami University chapter in Butler County is particularly active with more than 250 members and 68 matches. Daniel Persson, the incoming chapter President, is a buddy to Nick, 22, who has a severe form of Autism. They were united three years ago when Persson, a Youngstown native and incoming Senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Marketing, went to a volunteer open house.

Once matched, they quickly clicked over a common bond of sports, video games and talking about girls. Persson attributes the vitality of the MU chapter to the volunteers that are so passionate about the cause. “Everyone that is involved genuinely cares about the rights and equality of people with disabilities,” comments Persson. “It’s happy, open and loving environment is different than any other I’ve ever worked with.”

Connie Mehlman, Community Resource Program Coordinator for the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities works with the Miami University to make those connections. Involved with the Best Buddies program for 12 years, Mehlman says the ideal student candidate is open minded, has a willingness to learn and believes in the true mission of the organization. When interviewing college students for the program and matches, Melman looks for a mix of personalities and for a student that is dedicated but not overcommitted since the Best Buddies program requires a student to see their match one time a month for a group event and another time a month for a one-on-one event. Likewise, she looks for a match with someone with a developmental disability that is 19 years or older and out of college as well as has their own transportation.

“The friendships that develop are inspiring and often times last for years,” comments Mehlman who has been in the field for 25 years. “Friendship is a two-way street and involves reciprocity. Not only are you forming a bond with someone and sharing memories to last a lifetime, but individuals without disabilities are in effect teaching those with disabilities independence. What seems simple to someone without an IDD like picking up the phone and coming up with ideas of things to do is a enormous life lesson with an enduring impact for someone with an IDD. And the more often they do it, the more comfortable they get.”

Janet Callison, Expansion Board Coordinator for the Ohio Best Buddies explains that the organization is in a fundraising pattern and half way through their goal to raise funds for a state office. They expect their fundraising goals to be complete by the end of the year at which time Best Buddies will be able to open more chapters around the State at middle, high school and college levels. With the State office will come a better opportunity for oversight and monitoring of the chapters and the matches.

In the meantime there are opportunities to get involved at the associate chapter level. Those associate chapters would then transcend into typical chapters upon the State office opening. For more information on to how bring the Best Buddies program to your school, contact Janet at 614-638-3990 or ohio@bestbuddies.org. Learn more about find out how to form an associate chapter, or go to Facebook to find out about a chapter’s progress and upcoming events.

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