The folks at Best Buddies have an audacious goal: to make it natural and normal to hire and be friends with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), said Gerry Klingman, president of Klingman & Associates in New York City.
The IDD community includes those with Down’s syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities.
Gerry has been closely involved with Best Buddies since 1990, when he was contacted by founder Anthony Kennedy Shriver. Anthony was continuing the work begun by his mother Eunice Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics decades earlier.
A Board member of 24 years, Gerry has helped oversee Best Buddies’ growth into an organization that operates in all 50 states and more than 50 countries, impacting hundreds of thousands of lives.
Best Buddies programs focus on four major areas:
- Student friendships: Middle school, high school and college students are matched one-on-one with individuals with disabilities.
- Employee friendships: A similar matching program is offered to employees in the workplace.
- Leadership development: Program participants receive training to speak and advocate for themselves.
- Job placement: Employers are encouraged to hire members of the IDD community, especially for white-collar jobs such as mailroom or data-entry work.
“Oftentimes, this population doesn’t have any friends outside the family,” Mr. Klingman said. “They suffer from social, physical, and economic isolation. Our programs are life-changing.”
In recognition of his long-standing commitment and contributions to Best Buddies, Gerry was awarded the Invest in Others Lifetime Achievement Award in September. As he accepted the award, Gerry reflected on the growth of Best Buddies.
“Those of us that have been involved with charities for many years remember whenwe had no money and we were living on a shoestring. We were doing all kinds of things to raise money for the organization to do anything,” he said. “Best Buddies has since grown into the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people in this world with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”