Start looking for a series of billboards popping up across the country in an effort to promote acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities. The campaign is sponsored by Best Buddies, a national non-profit organization that fosters one-on-one friendships between those with and without disabilities. Best Buddies has programs in all 50 states and on six continents. Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies has grown from one original chapter to more than 1,400 college, high school and middle school campuses across the country and internationally.
I looked into the logistics of establishing a Best Buddies chapter in Erie. When I learned that Best Buddies was not establishing any new chapters at this time, I investigated other programs they offered and came across e-Buddies. E-Buddies is an email pen pal program that provides opportunities for online friendships between students with a disability and their typical peers. E-Buddies is open to anyone with an email address who is at least 10 years old. Participants join via an online application. Groups (special education classes) are also eligible to participate. There is no fee for students with a developmental disability. To minimize risk and ensure the safety of the participants, e-Buddies adopted multi-layered security features.
To join, the student completes an application which details his or her age, interests and three references. The student must also sign a code of conduct which outlines basic principles of the program. The student is then matched with a volunteer Buddy of similar age and with similar interests and / or activities. Copies of all emails are maintained by the program. Students agree to weekly emails for at least one year upon being matched with his or her Buddy.
Ryan joined the program last fall and has thoroughly enjoyed his communications with his pen pal, Veronica, a young lady from California. As he has never been there, California, the weather, and activities have been topics of a number of conversations. They have, of course, also talked about prom, his work assignments, and his favorite sports – swimming and running. Ryan is much more “social” on the computer than in face-to-face conversations, so the e-Buddy program has been a win-win for him. When I asked Ryan about the program, he said, “It is fun to have a friend through email. I like telling her what I’m doing and learning. I learn about what she likes to do and about California. I prefer talking to someone via email rather than in person.”
When my nephew, Joe Pinto, learned about the program, he signed up to be a “typical” Buddy. Joe is entering his sophomore year at McDowell High School. His Buddy is from Kodiak, Alaska. When asked why he chose to volunteer, Joe commented that he wanted to “improve the lives of children with special needs.”
This is a great program for all! Further information can be secured at http://www.ebuddies.org.