“Best! Best Buddies! Best Best Best Buddies!” This was the chant that could be heard echoing throughout the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana where over 2,100 participants from all over the world attended the 26th Annual Best Buddies International Leadership Conference. Founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization that has programs in each of the 50 states as well as over 50 countries across the world and is dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Also in attendance at the 2015 leadership conference was Mosaic of Indiana’s Elizabeth Goldman, Quality Assurance Coordinator, who served as a Speech Coach for her 6th consecutive year. In this role, Elizabeth works 1:1 with Buddy Ambassadors to provide training on how to improve their public speaking skills and become better self-advocates in order to be agents of change for the continued progression of the Disability Rights Movement. This year, Elizabeth was tasked with working with the novice international buddy participants from Egypt, Panama, Columbia, Spain, and Hong Kong.
In addition to her annual participation as a volunteer at the international leadership conference, Elizabeth is involved with the Best Buddies Citizens program in Indianapolis where she resides. She is matched in a one-to-one year-round friendship with her buddy, Jason. One of their favorite activities to do together is to spot “accessibility fails” in the community to help educate businesses on how to minimize architectural barriers that inhibit the physical inclusion of persons with disabilities. Elizabeth hopes to take her experience with the Best Buddies organization as well as her commitment to cultivating communities of inclusion back to Mosaic as she works with the newly chartered chapter of Self-Advocates of Indiana in Northern Indiana.
After her return from the conference, Elizabeth shared a poem entitled “We Are” with her Mosaic colleagues that was written by Daniel Noltemeyer and Eric Matthes at a previous year’s conference and published by Best Buddies International.
We are called “retarded.”
We are stared at.
We are told we can’t accomplish our dreams.
We are told we don’t belong.
We are treated unfairly.
We are fighters.
We are intelligent.
We are pushing ourselves.
We are advocates.
We are athletes.
We are leaders.
We are role models.
We are here to have fun!
We are working hard for what WE believe in!
We are equal.
We are changing our world one friendship at a time.
We are making history.
We are trouble makers (at times!).
We are charming.
We are bringing sexy back.
We are wild and crazy at times.
We are people with disabilities.
We are people withOUT disabilities.
We are people first.
We are the BEST people ever!
We are living independently.
We are employees.
We are making our OWN money.
We are making decisions about how to spend our money!
We are taxpayers.
We are voters.
We are standing up for our rights and the rights of others.
We are changing the way YOU see people with disabilities.
We are here for each other.
We are friends.
We are BEST BUDDIES.