Make a Connection: Best Buddies creating meaningful friendships

Best Buddies Program - CUW

Make a Connection is an ongoing series about organizations and programs that can help people with an intellectual and developmental disability achieve more and thrive in their communities.

Everyone can use a good friend. That’s what the Best Buddies program is all about.  

Best Buddies matches two people – one with a disability and one without, who are roughly the same age. Both participants benefit through ongoing communication and activities, and just hanging out together. In other words, being friends. They might go a ball game or see a movie, and stay in touch by texting. Throughout the year there are also organized, age-appropriate group activities such as dances.

There are Best Buddies chapters across the country, even internationally, serving elementary-age kids through adults. All are affiliated with another organization that helps provides guidance and manpower. There’s one at Concordia University Wisconsin, which is home to AbleLight College, a two-year life/work skills program for young adults with disabilities.  

Sam Bear, Adult Living Skills Professor at AbleLight College, is a big believer in what Best Buddies can do, so much so that she’s been active with the group for the last 16 years. She says it’s a natural fit with the mission of the college, with participants developing extra social skills and simply having a blast. “About 60 percent of AbleLight College students get involved,” Sam said.

Concordia students who are matched with the AbleLight College students benefit as well, said Dr. Linda Hensel, Concordia Department Chair of Special Education. They gain friends and learn leadership skills by organizing the chapter and activities. Attending these events and seeing the friends enjoying themselves can be a moving experience. “It’s so beautiful – it’s an example of genuine inclusion,” Linda said.

Interested in Best Buddies?

There are chapters in all 50 states and you can learn more on their website. They are active on social media, and here you can see the Wisconsin chapter’s Facebook page. Looks like fun!

The signup process is straightforward. The program typically lasts a year but oftentimes the buddies continue as friends long afterward. If you’re not sure you want to commit, Best Buddies chapters are open to including nonmembers in their activities to check them out.

Parents and guardians should note that whether the program is a good fit depends in part on the level of socialization that your loved one is comfortable with. Like most organizations, COVID-19 has changed how Best Buddies operates, with many activities temporarily moving online for safety reasons. As COVID recedes, more typical activities will return.