What started in 1993 as a single chapter at York University has grown to over 500 chapters nationwide. March is Best Buddies month, promoting one-to-one friendships and leadership development for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). We chatted with Best Buddies spokesperson Vicki MacCrimmon to learn more about the organize, the challenges it faced during the pandemic and how we can help celebrate and support to ensure this important work continues well into the future! —Vita Daily
Hi Vicki! Can you tell us a bit about Best Buddies and your role in the organization?
Best Buddies Canada has been operating for 28 years and helps to create leadership opportunities and one-to-one friendships for individuals with an IDD. I have the pleasure of being the Executive Director. Our team helps create chapters in school across Canada that promote inclusion, acceptance and belonging through friendship. For elementary and junior/middle schools the program operates like a friendship club—everyone is included. Our high-school program pairs individuals with an IDD and a neurotypical student in a one-to-one friendship and they also participate in group events. Our post-secondary chapters are paired with an agency, like Community Living, that serves individuals living in the community with an IDD—for one to one friendships and group events.
Do you have any sense of the unfilled need remaining in Canada?
There is an incredible need for our program. Friendship is such an integral part of everyday life that many of us take for granted. Research shows that friendship supports positive physical and mental health. Best Buddies Canada was hit very hard due to the pandemic. Many of our 500+ chapters were unable to operate due to COVID health restrictions and the majority of schools going online, and are currently on hiatus. This left many of our buddies with an IDD without any type of connection and very isolated. Our programs success is based on lasting friendships and that feeling of connecting with someone in a very special way. The pandemic created the opposite of connection and left some of our most vulnerable very alone.
BB is overseen by a board of directors, but you’re working on the ground every day. What kinds of challenges are unique to the non-profit sector at this time.
The majority of all sectors of business and non-profit have been affected by the pandemic. We have been unable to host our fundraising event for two years—an event that supports about 60 per cent of our operating budget, causing us to lay off many staff. There is a big focus on support for healthcare, food scarcity and the elderly at this time—these are incredibly important, but support for individuals with an IDD are equally important. Since Covid, we have seen a big increase in the number of calls we receive from Buddies (individuals with an IDD) and parents who are looking to find someone for their child to connect with.
Beyond the obvious issues of personal protection, has Covid changed the nature of your work?
Our program is based on that person to person connection—it may sound a bit corny but it is sort of based on hugs. Covid is the antithesis of this. We worked very quickly to create online and virtual program for our Buddies. We have done everything from Yoga to making cake pops to sports discussions. Many of our post-secondary chapters have been operating quite successful virtually with game nights and movie nights. This is all wonderful, but it is not the same as connecting with someone in person.
What are your plans for Best Buddies in the future?
There is an incredible need for our program. One of the biggest area of growth that we are seeing is new chapters that have never been involved with Best Buddies before—largely from parents asking a school to start a chapter or a teacher realizing the incredible need. As things open up we are going to see considerable growth in our program—because everyone deserves a friend.