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“I’ve spoken to so many families and individuals who are affected and it seems simple, but friendship changes lives…”
Ted: Catlin, please give us some background on what you’re doing with Best Buddies Ohio.
Catlin: 30 years ago, Anthony Shriver, Founder of Best Buddies, realized that there was a lack of social opportunities for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and wondered why that gap existed. He set out to close that gap – starting a chapter at his school to enable individuals with disabilities to be paired into friendships with individuals without disabilities. The club really took off and a lot of people really enjoyed it. Other colleges across the nation started opening chapters as well.
Today, we’re in colleges, high schools, and middle schools in all 50 states and more than 50 countries across the world. Many individuals with disabilities don’t have the opportunity to meet friends. Those who don’t have disabilities sometimes don’t know how to approach someone that does. Our programs offer a very intentional relationship that ends up being natural in the school and the community.
Since we started, our mission has expanded from one-to-one friendship and now includes three additional important pillars:
We’re always trying something new to make sure people with disabilities have friends, leadership opportunities, jobs, and great living conditions.
Ted: Can you tell me a bit about your personal history with the non-profit organization?
Catlin: I moved to Cleveland four years ago now and I was looking to get involved in something. My friend from Tampa that worked on their best buddies national team reached out and said they were having a friendship walk. I had the opportunity to attend that year and be part of the committee that planned the event. It was my first time working with anyone in the disability rights movement and it was really inspiring.
I was invited to attend the international leadership conference that happens every year and I was sitting in an audience of more than 2000 people. There was a young woman named Katie who got on the stage, and she was doing an incredible speech! She said, “last year, best buddies helped me get a job and now I pay taxes”. She was really proud of that statement, and people giggled around the room, but it was really my “ah-ha” moment.
Katie was just like me – we both wanted to contribute to the community and it really took the stigma away for me. I contacted the current State Director in Ohio and I told her I wanted to help. I continued volunteering and the current state director went into another part of our organization, so they asked me if I wanted to be the State Director in Ohio. Since working here, I’ve spoken to so many families and individuals who are affected and it seems simple, but friendship changes lives.
Ted: Tell me about what makes your mission important and impactful?
Catlin: I think at the very heart of what we do, when someone has a friend for the first time, someone who comes up and says hello and they can talk to them on a regular basis, they become a much more confident, happier person. A lot of times, for someone who is totally unaware of our organization, I ask “Can you imagine walking into high school and nobody coming up and saying hello?”
It’s a much different experience. My life has been so enriched by the friends I’ve met along the way and unfortunately, people with disabilities haven’t always had those opportunities. That’s what makes our organization so important and impactful.
Ted: What’s it like from a peer buddy perspective?
Catlin: When there’s a chapter at a school, students with disabilities and students without disabilities will sign up and a one-to-one match is made by the chapter president based on various interests, age, etc. The students without disabilities join because they believe in inclusivity. They tend to realize that people with disabilities have the same hopes, dreams, and desires that people who don’t have disabilities. It’s changing the perception of people with disabilities.
Ted: Can you tell me a story about a match?
Catlin: If we make a friendship match outside of a school, it’s called a citizen’s match. One I’ve followed very closely because they live nearby is Casey and Sammy. They’re two 33-year-old women who both wanted to be involved in the program. They live close together and have similar interests. They met and they hit it off right away! Since they met almost 2 years ago now, they’ve gone on family trips together, baseball games, the friendship walk, and much more.
Ted: How would you suggest getting started for someone who isn’t familiar with the programs you offer?
Catlin: The best way to get started is to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can direct you to the appropriate place to get started whether you’re looking to open a chapter or get an e-buddy. It’s typically pretty straightforward!
Be sure to watch our complete interview to hear more about this incredible non-profit organization’s powerful impact in terms of helping to enhance inclusivity around the world. You can also visit their website at https://www.bestbuddies.org/ohio.