Eastern Michigan University’s Best Buddies chapter teamed up with the University of Michigan to hold the Annual Best Buddies Friendship Walk and 5K run at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor Saturday, April 9. This walk was to raise funds to create a new Michigan office for the group as well as promote inclusion and fellowship among those with disabilities.
Despite the frigid weather, the event had about 100 registered participants by the time it started at 12:00 p.m.
“No matter what strengths or weaknesses you have, you are somebody. We strive to promote opportunities and equality for all people,” Kristen Reeves, Deputy Director, said at the event.
The cost to build an office in Michigan comes to an estimated $250,000. The organization hopes to begin breaking ground as early as fall of 2017. The location has yet to be determined.
“We just try to embrace people’s ability and open our arms to everyone, “ Samantha Gucciardo, Central Michigan University Chapter Volunteer Chair, said.
Gucciardo has been a special education teacher in the Woodhaven School District for the last six years. She said she attributes her happiness and career solitude in the profession to her involvement with Best Buddies during her time in college.
“Absolutely, I chose to be a teacher because of Best Buddies. I’m really happy,” said Gucciardo.
Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies International is a non-profit organization, and its aim is to create opportunities for friendship, employment, and leadership for the intellectual and developmentally disabled.
Autism, cerebral palsy, and fragile X are just a few of the disabilities found in community that the organization serves.
With offices in over 20 states and 1,500 chapters in colleges, high schools and middle schools across the country, the network of volunteers, especially at the university level, seems to be growing. Mentorship and improving the overall quality of life in the disabled community is the message that has resonated with these participants and volunteers.
“This is fun, but I wish I could be back in Miami right now. It’s 80 degrees!” Gucciardo said.
For more information on Best Buddies international or to make a donation, visit their website here.