Best Buddies’ New Spokane Chapter! January 12, 2021 – Posted in: Happy Dances

New and exciting things are happening in Spokane! AtWork! was recently awarded a grant by the Spokane County Community Services, Housing, and Community Development Department to start a Best Buddies Citizen Program.

Best Buddies International is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Best Buddies currently has 3,200 chapters and over 137,000 participants worldwide. The Citizen Program matches an adult with IDD to another adult without a disability. This buddy pair develops a friendship and promotes a more inclusive world for adults with and without disabilities.

We sat down with Danika, a member of our AtWork! Spokane Team who was instrumental in getting this started, to get the inside scoop:

Tell us about how this came about! Tell us how the idea came to you, and how the initial conversations went.

“AtWork! has always known that I have a passion for people with disabilities in competitive and equitable employment, but they also have known that I value friendships that I personally have with people with disabilities. My manager knew the new Director of Best Buddies Washington and was happy to connect us. We met shortly after via Zoom to learn more about Best Buddies and the possibilities of a Citizens Program in Spokane. After that conversation, I had a few more with the Expansion Team for Best Buddies, and we then established the Spokane chapter!”

What attracted you to this cause?

“As a student at Gonzaga University, I was the Lead Student Volunteer for a program called ‘Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation’. It had a similar mission to Best Buddies, which was to provide opportunities for friendships for people with and without disabilities. After I graduated, I hadn’t found something similar that provided a space for people with and without disabilities to create friendships. Of course until Best Buddies, and I jumped at the chance!”

What is the biggest challenge AtWork! and yourself face with implementing this program? How can others help?

The biggest challenge we will face is getting the word out about Best Buddies in Spokane because it has never been here before, and also navigating COVID restrictions when planning events down the road. In the meantime, like AtWork!, Best Buddies has done a great job of adapting to virtual events. I would encourage others to spread the word! Let’s make it known that Best Buddies is here in Spokane!

What would you say to other places/organizations who are looking to create a Best Buddies program of their own?

I would totally encourage them! The initial setup and logistics were made so easy by the Best Buddies team and all I had to do was take the reins from them. I was really impressed with how organized the process was and I cannot wait to get people matched with their buddies! It is a wonderful opportunity for inclusion and for people to make new friends with all different abilities!

What would you like readers to know about Best Buddies?

Best Buddies is a great way to make new friends that they might not have met before. It is an opportunity to engage with others in the community and to grow friendships with individuals with disabilities. It gives all people an opportunity to create bonds and connections in Spokane, which I think is the most exciting part!

How about AtWork!?

AtWork! is a service provider for people with disabilities, but it’s also more. We care about more than just the work, but the whole person that we serve. I am so grateful that AtWork! will be the Host Site for Best Buddies Spokane Citizens because it aligns with our mission to empower people with disabilities to be productive, integrated, and contributing members of their society. Whether that be through employment, Community Inclusion, or friendships with Best Buddies, AtWork! supports people with disabilities in all facets of their life.

And finally, how did it feel to find out you had been awarded the grant?

It felt so amazing! To know that the work we will be doing with Best Buddies is valued and that other people want to see these friendships happening in our Spokane Community. It gives me the confidence to launch Best Buddies Spokane Citizens knowing that there are people behind me who support the value of friendship for all people. We will be able to do a lot with the money we were awarded and we are SO beyond grateful!

Links: Best Buddies, Best Buddies Citizen Program, Spokane County Community Services, Housing, and Community Development Department.

Picture Description: Danika, the interviewee of this blog post, pictured standing in front of a brick building and smiling at the camera.