Week 6

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”

Colossians 3:23

July 29-August 2

This week was my last week in the office! It was very bittersweet and I can’t believe how many important things I’ve learned this summer. Even though I spent most of my time in the office, I learned useful, simple skills that I will definitely carry into my life as a college student and a young professional. During this week, I helped clean up and reorganize the office and left over materials that we brought back from LC. I also helped a buddy, Mike, write thank you notes to all of the people, companies, and organizations that donated items for LC. I helped him write thank you notes to organizations such as the Predators, Aveda, Hilton, Vineyard Vines, and several others that donated items for the swag bags distributed at LC. Besides learning about how to work in an office and how to collaborate with others in a professional space, I also gained a completely different perspective on Best Buddies. From now on, inclusion will be my first concern in every situation. I’m so thankful that Best Buddies opened my eyes to better understand their mission of acceptance and friendship for all people and I’m excited to see how Best Buddies will continue to change my life, as I will be an officer on the Best Buddies Leadership Team at FRA this year!

Helping Mike write thank you letters to donors

This is a picture with my sweet friend, Kara. This picture was taken at the closing ceremony at LC. I can’t wait to impact more special people just like Kara because they deserve love and friendship just as much as anyone else!!

Alex & Ani Charmed by Charity Event

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart….”

Colossians 3:23

July 27

Last Saturday at the Alex and Ani store in the Green Hills Mall, I hosted a Best Buddies giveback where 15% of the jewelry sales went back to Best Buddies and FRA’s Best Buddies Friendship Walk Team. It lasted from 1pm-4pm and went really well! For the event, I had to find volunteers to help out and welcome people into the store. To find volunteers, I contacted FRA’s chapter president, Ava, and asked her to post the flyer on FRA’s Best Buddies Instagram. Along with promoting the event through FRA’s Best Buddies Instagram, I also posted it on my own Instagram. I had a lot of friends and FRA Best Buddies officers come help out throughout the afternoon. It was so much fun and Alex and Ani’s assistant manager told me it was one of the most successful events they had ever held!

Day 3 and 4 of Leadership Conference!

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”

Colossians 3:23

LC: July 19-22

2,500 attendees, 300 self advocates, 35 presenters and performances, 14 countries attending, 10 training tracks, 4 days! Inclusion lives here!

Day 3:

To start off the day, Ava and I woke up early and met everyone for breakfast. After breakfast, we walked to the auditorium where we would start off our day listening to a couple guest speakers and listen to music to get excited for the day ahead of us. We listened to an interview of Rocco, a star from Born This Way, alongside his family, and a panel of all the guest speakers from the day before. We also watched and listened to an interview of the producers of Peanut Butter Falcon, which is a movie coming out in August about a man’s adventures with down syndrome. At the end of the day, the movie was shown for the very first time! During the directors’ interview, we also heard from Lauren Potter, a actress from Glee with down syndrome, and Annemarie Carrigan, the subject of a documentary about down syndrome, called Normie. All day, we were in classes where we held more open discussions for questions about how to lead our chapters and how to better support the buddies. In the discussions, we also learned about how to avoid infantilization, meaning treating someone in a child-like manner. We also discussed the differences between intent vs impact and equality vs equity. With these discussions, I broadened my understanding of the buddies’ perspectives and that every action and choice of ours truly matters. After all of the classes and lunch, all high schoolers attended World Cafe in the Alumni Hall. At World Cafe, one person from each state sat at a different table around the room. We were assigned somewhere to sit, so everyone at our table was truly a stranger. For an hour and a half, we all got to know each other at our table, talked about our chapters, and our experience at LC so far. World Cafe was my absolute favorite part of LC because I loved meeting people from around the nation and listening to their perspectives on Best Buddies. At my table, there were people from Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and Iowa. By the end of our time at World Cafe, we all wished we could talk to each other for the rest of the day! I loved meeting people from around the U.S. and I think that it’s amazing how everyone involved in Best Buddies has the same opinion on inclusion and believes that Best Buddies is changing the world, even though we had never met before and we were all from different states.

Class on Sunday

After classes and World Cafe, we returned to our dorms and got ready for Closing Ceremonies and the dance! Every year at LC, there is a dance that everyone attends on the last night. Every year, the dance has a different theme. This year, the theme was “Party Like It’s 1989” since it’s the 30th anniversary of Best Buddies being created and it was created by Anthony Kennedy Shriver in 1989. Before the dance, everyone met in the auditorium, where we watched a dance performance by Autism With Attitude and listened to a band perform called Hello Noon. The 80s themed dance was held in the Alumni Hall, which was the building where we had previously been in for World Cafe. In addition to the dance, there was also games in other rooms and the movie Peanut Butter Falcon was being premiered for the very first time in a different building.

Group pic before closing ceremony and dance
Closing Ceremony
Closing Ceremony
Hello Noon band at Closing Ceremony
Party Like It’s 1989
80s dance
Ava and I at the 80s dance

Day 4:

Leaving LC was so bitter sweet! I had only gotten between 4-5 hours of sleep every night, but I still wasn’t ready to leave yet. We woke up at 6am after going to bed at 2am and we piled onto the bus, ready to get home to our own beds but not ready to leave our new close friends. On the bus ride back, we listened to ambassadors’ speeches, where they must present their speech as part of their application to potentially become an International Ambassador. Even though they had a small chance of being chosen against the other hundreds of buddies also competing for the position, I was so proud of all of them for telling their story in front of everyone and for being so brave! I loved hearing all of their speeches because I had helped one of them create their speech, Kara, in which she had worked hard on perfecting and practicing it while she was at LC. The other ambassadors, Michael and Amyah, also did an amazing job! Listening to their speeches on the way back was a great way to end BBLC2019!

Amyah’s speech
Kara’s speech
Mike’s speech

Day 1 and 2 of Leadership Conference!

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”

Colossians 3:23

LC: July 19-22

2,500 attendees, 300 self advocates, 35 presenters and performances, 14 countries attending, 10 training tracks, 4 days! Inclusion lives here!

Day 1:

On Friday morning, we left at 8am and arrived at Indiana University around 1pm. I roomed with Ava and we also sat together on the bus ride down. I was so excited that LC was finally here because I had been prepping for it all summer at the office! Everything went smoothly that morning, and after we had arrived in the afternoon, everyone received their room key and we got ready for the Opening Ceremony. The Opening Ceremony was held in the auditorium, where we would also meet every morning and night before and after our daily classes. At Opening Ceremony, Anthony Kennedy Shriver welcomed everyone and there were several guest singers and speakers. Since I was in the pink group, known as “The Pink Ladies,” we all brought pink outfits, pink face paint, pink bandannas, and other pink accessories. I loved how the conference began with an opening ceremony because it made everyone feel excited about the weekend and gave everyone a chance to get to know their peers. It reminded me of a concert because there was a dance group that performed, Autism with Attitude, the first ever autistic dance group who also received 2nd place on a European dance show, that were background dancers that danced behind guest singers, while bright lights lit up auditorium and fog machines were on stage. It was so much fun! After Opening Ceremony, we returned to our dorm and prepared ourselves for the exciting weekend ahead.

Clare, Ava and I ready for Opening Ceremony
Maria and I before Opening Ceremony
Sydney and I at Opening Ceremony
“The Pink Ladies” and Autism with Attitude

Day 2:

After all the excitement of Opening Ceremony, Ava and I had no issue waking up at 6am the next day. We quickly got ready for the day and then met the rest of our group at breakfast. After breakfast, we returned to the auditorium, where we spent the rest of our morning listening to guest speakers until lunchtime. I loved listening to all the speakers, with and without IDD, because it truly broadened my perspective of Best Buddies as a whole since it proved to me that everyone in the world only wants friendship, opportunities, and to be loved. That morning, we heard from Samantha Cook, the YLC Chair, that spoke about the Young Leaders Council, Kevin Wanzer who is an author and spoke about how we choose to love, and Hoan Do who competed on American Ninja Warrior and spoke about courage. We also heard from Jevin Hodge, the Vice Chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party who spoke about characteristics of a leader, Soeren Palumbo, the creator of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, which began at the University of Notre Dame, and a leader of global youth engagement programs for Special Olympics, where he spoke about the Best Buddies movement statistics. Afterwards, we heard from Haley Moss, the first autistic attorney, and Scott Paton, a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine and a graduate from the University of South Florida. Along with all of these genius and monumental people, we also heard from Rocco, a star from the show, Born This Way. Here’s a couple of my favorite quotes from the incredible speakers I was privileged to listen to:

“Accept the differences of others to help them find their own light within themselves.”

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

“The secret of being a best buddy is knowing that when you empower someone else to win, is actually when you’ve won.”

Kevin Wansor
Kevin Wansor

“What is inclusion, really? Inclusion is a transferable skill. No one is born ‘inclusive.’ [Inclusion] can be learned, practiced and taught.”

“Always proceed as if success is inevitable.”

Soeren Palumbo
Soeren Palumbo

“Anytime you have a negative thought about yourself or your ability, tell yourself: ‘Hold up, that’s whack!'”

“The bigger the setback, the bigger the comeback!”

“Your setbacks in life don’t determine your future success.”

Hoan Do
Hoan Do

After hearing from all the speakers and then eating lunch, we attended two different classes where everyone from our state gathered into one room and listened to Tennessee’s program managers for Best Buddies. We had several helpful discussions about how to improve our chapters, how to express appreciation to volunteers, ways to be more involved during the school year, and how to use a website called BBO, which is used for registration and includes each school’s club roster. After dinner and our classes, we all returned our dorm rooms and got ready for the Friendship Walk. The Friendship Walk is where everyone from all states and countries walk together down a street at Indiana University, that leads to an outdoor concert and a fun area with games, ice cream, and music. The Friendship Walk was one of my favorite parts of LC because I loved hanging out with all of my new friends and it was so much fun!

Before the walk
Only a fraction of everyone who participated in the Friendship Walk!
Friendship Walk
After the walk- inclusion lives here!

Week 5

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”

Colossians 3:23

July 15-18

This week was full of last minute preparations for LC! LC was right around the corner and everyone in the office was rushing to make sure that everything would be perfect. On Thursday, staff left Nashville to arrive at Indiana University, while students and ambassadors left on Friday morning. With little time left, my coworkers and I made sure to double check that everything was ready.

When students arrived at the dorms, everyone would have a swag bag waiting for them filled with t-shirts to wear each day, letters to open twice per day from ambassadors and staff, a water bottle, a pen and a notepad, stickers, and other surprises. These bags took the longest time to prepare since items were constantly being donated and arriving to the office, and since there were around 100 bags. The letters from ambassadors and staff were stressful to get in each bag since we had much less copies printed that we thought, so Gabe and I had to recount every letter, then print and stuff more copies of letters into envelopes. There were two buses that we took to LC, one traveling from Memphis and one traveling from Brentwood. We also brought a couple cars to pack all the bags in, along with binders I created for all the students and all the staff. Since most staff left on Thursday, I ran last minute errands to pick up some things for my color group and my group leader, Alex. When everyone arrives on Friday, there is an opening ceremony where everyone dresses up, dances and listens to music, and gets to know everyone. Our state decided to split into color groups, where I was placed in the pink group, and we had a contest to see who had the most spirit and the best theme. For our theme, we decided to be “The Pink Ladies,” so I picked up some pink glitter, pink face paint, and pink bandannas.

Some of the LC Staff and Chapter President Student Binders
Stacks of Letters for LC
All Signs Packed Up for LC
Pink Bandannas for Opening Ceremony
LC Bags Stuffed and Packed
More LC Bags

Week 4

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”

Colossians 3:23

July 8-12

During this week, I continued to prepare for Leadership Conference. At LC, there are 5 different color groups that every attendee is separated into: pink, purple, red, blue, and yellow. High school girls are in the pink and purple groups, ambassadors and buddies are in red, high school boys are in blue, and all college students are in yellow. For everyone in each group, I made bracelets that they will wear to remember which group they are in and to easily decipher who else is in their group. In addition to these bracelets, I also made signs that we will bring with us to use at the opening and closing ceremonies. Since this year is Best Buddies’s 30th year anniversary since it has been founded, I made signs with the number 30 on them, along with 30 pictures of the founder, Anthony Shriver. Since every state will have people attending the conference to represent their chapters, we decided that we could make Tennessee stand out against everyone else by holding glittery signs and pictures of Anthony.

On Thursday night, we hosted the LC info night where everyone attending from Tennessee came, except people driving in from Memphis. I presented part of the presentation where I explained the color groups. The info night was at FRA and lasted an hour. While I was there, I got to see a couple ambassadors that I befriended while helping them write their speech for LC earlier this summer. It was so fun reuniting with everyone and it’s so exciting that LC is right around the corner! Also, LC will be broadcasted on a live stream through http://www.bestbuddies.tv which will record the opening and closing ceremonies.

LC bracelets
30 Glitter Signs
LC Info Night
LC Info Night
Live stream LC!

Week 3

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”

Colossians 3:23

June 24-28

This week was a very busy week in the office! The past two weeks have been heavily focused on helping buddies write letters for Leadership Conference in July, but this week was vastly different since there were different projects occurring every day. This week, everyone helped clean out, reorganize, and move all items in storage to a new storage unit. I also helped organize some of the decorations and banners for the Friendship Walk, Prom, and the Best Buddies Gala. After cleaning out the storage unit, we cleaned out the office and reorganized another one of the offices. Besides cleaning out the storage unit and the office, there was a promotional video shot at the office which will be used to promote the Best Buddies organization to businesses around the country. Michael Blackburn came to the office to be interviewed and I helped him go over his lines for the video, write a Leadership Conference letter, and write another letter that will be used to thank a donor that donated shirts for LC. It was so fun having Michael in the office for a day because I loved listening to him explain his passion for Best Buddies and how Best Buddies helped him be proud of who he has become! Later in the week, I created binders for all staff and program managers to be used at LC that included all information on the schedule, students attending the camp, and everyone’s contacts. The entire office has been closed the week of July 1 due to the holiday, but I am excited to return next Monday!

New and improved storage unit!
Selfie with Mike!