Best Buddies Ireland
I was very fortunate this year to share the very special life changing mission of Best Buddies. When I first signed up for the Best Buddies Chapter in my school, I didn’t realise what an impact one person can make on someone’s life. I never expected what was to come. If you think for a moment, if you were asked to volunteer to become a friend to a person with an intellectual disability, which person would you have thought was going to benefit from the relationship? If you’re thinking the person with the intellectual disability, or Buddy, you were half-right, but you are forgetting yourself.
Joining Best Buddies was the biggest commitment I’ve made. It tests your responsibility as a friend, which earns you the trust of your Buddy, who needs to know that they can depend on you to be there when they most need you, just like with any other friend. When you think about joining, the first thing that occurs to you is the big commitment. You are right, it is! “Will it be too hard, will I have time?” you ask. Tell me, how difficult is it to call a friend once a week and to meet up with them twice a month? Not very! How often do you meet up with your best friend? This is the very same – a new Best Friend.
This summer I was even more proud to be part of Best Buddies, when I was chosen to travel to Indiana University, USA, to attend the annual Best Buddies International Leadership Conference. This was a once in a life time opportunity, which I grabbed with both hands. I had heard much about the conference before I left Ireland, but nothing could have prepared me for what faced me in Indiana. It was better than I could have anticipated.
Ten Irish students and five staff members were all set for the busy weekend ahead. The participants of the conference, who were from all over the world, were ushered inside to fill an enormous auditorium, with the capacity of seating 2,000 people.
It began with a very special opening ceremony, in which Anthony Kennedy Shriver, who founded best Buddies in 1989, addressed us. His speech showed us his sheer dedication to the Best Buddies organisation and he encouraged us to know our responsibilities as “Peer Buddy”, explaining the slogan, “I see you”; to see your Buddy as a peer, as a friend, as an equal.
During the course of the weekend, we heard speeches from people associated with Best Buddies, including a great number of Buddies themselves. They showed us how much they love the program, how much they have benefited from having a Peer Buddy and how much they cherish having this new friendship. It was amazing!
We spent most of the weekend learning how to run a Best Buddies Chapter in our school. The encouragement of staff and Best Buddies alike inspired us to treasure the time with our Buddies.
They teach us more than they could ever learn from us; friendship is giving as well as receiving. In getting to know our Buddies, we must look beyond their disabilities and see their abilities. There are many stages between starting a friendship and a strong friendship, but the bridges we cross to get there make a difference in our lives as well as the lives of our Buddies, which makes it all worthwhile.
Emer Staunton, former Best Buddies Chapter President, Athboy Community School