Posted: January 26, 2014
Written by: Arek Sarkissian II
If you go
What: Best Buddies Annual Benefit
When: 6-9 p.m. Feb. 3
Where: 101 Restaurant & Lounge
Tickets: $50, which includes dinner and two drink vouchers
Contact: For more information, email FSUBestBuddies@gmail.com
Florida State student Rachel Smith wants everyone to get out of their social comfort zones to find a best buddy.
Smith, who leads Best Buddies of FSU, is holding a Feb. 3 benefit designed to both raise money and awareness of her organization. Best Buddies is an international group that promotes friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Smith said she has been involved with Best Buddies since high school and met her true best friend through the program.
“It’s absolutely amazing to see how life-changing this program can be,” Smith said. “The service drives me for sure, but Best Buddies is different because you know you’re getting a friendship.”
Best Buddies was founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy, as a volunteer program dedicated to establishing friendships with people who have developmental or intellectual disabilities. The program has 1,700 chapters in 50 countries around the world established in secondary schools and college campuses. Shriver helped begin FSU’s chapter in 1991, and today it has 200 members who have affiliations with 85 members of Tallahassee’s developmental disabilities community.
The FSU chapter of Best Buddies holds bimonthly events that include bowling, dances, talent shows and field days, and members who are paired with buddies in the community keep up regular communication.
Smith said she and her best buddy love spending time together.
“We’ll do just about anything together,” Smith said. “I’ll even take her grocery shopping with me.”
The development of relationships fostered by Best Buddies also helps crumble the stigma surrounding disabilities. Smith said she could see that in her buddy.
“I know if I wasn’t there, she wouldn’t leave her mom’s side,” she said. “With me, she feels comfortable.”
The Feb. 3 event begins with cocktail hour and will include a silent auction, keynote speakers and camaraderie. Proceeds from the event will fund a scholarship for one best buddy to attend an International Conference in Indiana, assist with the chapter’s operational expenses and help spread word about the program across Florida.
One of the local VIPs who plans to attend the event is J.R. Harding, who uses a wheelchair and has championed the rights of disabled people in Florida’s education system.
“It’s a place where smiles occur. It’s a place where diversity occurs,” Harding said of the event. “It’s the place where we put aside our everyday difficulties and are reminded there are things more important than ourselves.”