Local News Making a Difference West Edition

Best Buddies offers hope, friendship to those with special needs

MAKING A DIFFERENCE:

Michelle found Best Buddies International in June 2018 as an intern with high hopes of building skills that would help her transition from the low-paying, temporary positions that gave her lots of anxiety, into a stable, well-paying job. 

After a few weeks in the program, she secured a position with Silicon Valley Bank and her friendly personality and hard work ethic quickly endured her to her co-workers and managers.

For Michelle, who lives with intellectual and developmental disabilities, securing the job has been a turning point in her life, helping her come out of her shell and become the independent woman she always wanted to be. Since starting her job, she has gotten married, and her increase in income has allowed her to move out of her parents’ home into an apartment with her husband. 

“Because of my job at Silicon Valley Bank, I was able to move into my own apartment with my husband,” Michelle said. “Having my own home made me feel more independent. Best Buddies is important to me because they helped me get my dream job at SVB.

Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to nearly 2,900 chapters worldwide, positively impacting the lives of more than 1.25 million children and adults with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Best Buddies programs engage participants in each of the 50 states and in 54 countries around the world.  The organization is dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement through its four pillars that focus on creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living for individuals.

“We are an organization that live out our mission every day,” said Erica Mangham, California state director. “I’m proud about everything we do at Best Buddies. Most recently, we hired a person who has autism as our office assistant in the Los Angeles Office. We are living out our second pillar.”

Mangham has worked in nonprofit spaces for more than 20 years as either an employee, a volunteer, or a member of a board, but working at Best Buddies is a personal and a conscious decision for the mom whose youngest daughter has special needs.  

“[Best Buddies works to give participants] a sense of independence, freedom and a feeling of belonging,” Mangham said. “[We want them to] have a friend, a true friend, it’s just that simple. Everyone needs a friend or someone who believes in them and with the help of Best Buddies we make that hope or wish a reality.” 

Mangham credits the success of the program to its dedicated and mission-focused staff, volunteers, donors and founder. However, like most nonprofits, the organization is in need of continuous funding to continue the programs that are critical to its mission.  

Each year, Best Buddies host a Friendship Walk in May and they also put on an annual gala called Champion of the Year.

“We hope that people reading this will think about supporting us by coming to these events and helping us raise much-needed funds,” Mangham said. “In addition to the funding, we need more employer partnerships and expansion of schools. 

Mangham hopes that the support of the community will allow Best Buddies to continue to transform the lives of men and women who want to live full, independent lives. Right now, 84% of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are unemployed, and the organization has made its mission for the future to lower that statistic. 

“My wish for Best Buddies is that we continue to be laser focused on the mission to ensure that our participants are living out an inclusive life, in the workforce and in school, in ways that are the norm, not the exception,” Mangham said.

INFORMATION BOX

Name: Erica Mangham

Title: California State Director

Organization: Best Buddies International 

Social Media:  https://www.bestbuddies.org/

By Angela N. Parker

Contributing Writer