Millennium High School a Stellar Example of This Terrific Organization
by Kristen Giddings
New York, New York__The roaring booms resound through the stadium in Union City, New Jersey. New York Rumble Ultimate Frisbee fans stomp, or rumble, their feet in the bleachers, showing their enthusiasm and support for their team on the field in front of them. But off the field, at the heart of all the excitement, a few students from Millennium High School joined in the camaraderie in the stands today. With the biggest smiles in all the stadium, these students have been given a remarkable opportunity, and this exciting day with the New York Rumble is only one example in addition to countless others worldwide.
This remarkable opportunity provided to these students is the ability to become a part of an incredible organization and movement: Best Buddies. Best Buddies is a global non-profit organization designed to create a vast amount of opportunities, ranging from friendship to employment, for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).
While Best Buddies has a multitude of outreach programs for individuals with IDD, one of the largest and most notable programs offered is the Schools Programs, the program the Millennium High School students are a part of.
“Best Buddies is an organization that, on the school level, we partner students with intellectual developmental disabilities with 1-to-1 friendships with students without, to foster a sense of social inclusion.” – Leah Burgess, Best Buddies New York
“In a lot of schools, you don’t see that [inclusion], they don’t have the same opportunities to make friends and socialize.”
Millennium High School, a New York public high school located in lower Manhattan, is one of many incredible schools across the country that has a Best Buddies Chapter. However, while some schools truly need the assistance of Best Buddies to encourage and cultivate the opportunities and inclusion for their students with IDD, Millennium sets itself apart.
“This school in particular fosters a strong sense of social inclusion just on its own, so that’s why I think our program fits so well here,” says Burgess.
She explains how Millennium’s IDD students have the same schedule as all other students, sharing classrooms, using the same facilities and switching classes at the same time.
“Millennium students see the students with IDD as their friends in the hallway, and there is no difference for them, for the most part.”
The success for Best Buddies and for Millennium comes from being a part of an inclusion program within District 75. District 75 is an established program in New York that provides programs and services for students with several different disabilities, including students with IDD. Therefore, the inclusion that is so important to Best Buddies is already fostered through the program in practice at Millennium High School.
Behind the strong system established at Millennium, and keeping the successful program running smoothly, is Jessica Walton. Walton is a SETSS (Special Education Teacher Support Services) Provider for District 75 and the admired teacher for the intellectual and developmental disabilities students at Millennium High School.
Teaching at Millennium for three years, Walton says how she was lucky to be able to take over and become the advisor to the Best Buddies Club.
“I think these kids need a buffer between this big scary school world and the differences that they have,” says Walton. “Through Best Buddies, there is somebody already there and ready to step in and overlook their differences, and preach inclusion and tolerance and passion, and that’s all people need.”
Walton sees the abilities Best Buddies has in changing a high school experience for an IDD student and how the program provides them with opportunities they normally would never be a part of.
Best Buddies prides itself in the organization of such opportunities, creating events and social outings for their program members. The event held on June 8th with the New York Rumble can certainly be added to the list of exciting and memorable days for the kids.
With a cloudless sky and warmth of the June Sunday morning, a small group of boys from the Millennium Best Buddies Club escaped the city for the day, and not only were able to attend and watch the professional Frisbee game, but they were able to join the players on the field before the game for a clinic in learning how to play ultimate Frisbee.
Much like the 1-to-1 friendship fostered through Best Buddies, the small group in attendance allowed for the students to work in a 1-to-1 relationship with a player from the New York Rumble. The players taught the boys how to properly catch and throw a Frisbee and the basic skills of playing the game. But more importantly, they shared laughs and smiles and, together, just had fun.
Proving to be a teacher that cares and gets involved, there was Ms. Walton, throwing and catching the Frisbee right alongside her students on the field.
“But you can see that they love it and it totally made their day,” says Walton. “The professional ultimate Frisbee players were so great playing with them…they loved the game and they love sports.”
The students fully engaged in this new sport, excitedly and happily taking on the challenge of learning how to play. However, they were certainly not the only ones enjoying themselves.
The professional athletes look forward to these clinics just as much as the students do. All the players from the New York Rumble want to be involved, to teach the kids how to play, and to enjoy the moments or learning and laughing in the field.
“The players were extremely excited, we actually had to cut down how many people wanted to help,” says New York Rumble Head Coach, Anthony Nunez.
The sport of Ultimate Frisbee has always struck close to home for Nunez, as the sport actually began in his home town of Columbia, New Jersey, at his high school, Columbia High School.
To keep the community involved, The NY Rumble hosts clinics before every home game, and upon learning about Best Buddies, Nunez immediately reached out to Leah Burgess, knowing the matchup would be incredible for everyone involved.
“We’re big on giving back to the community, and Best Buddies was a great opportunity for that,” says Nunez. “These kids really had a great chance to show that they are rockstars.” And rockstars, they were.
“They [the students] took it on with no fears and they just did it,” says Walton, describing how the boys actively played and worked with the professional Frisbee players.
The players who worked with the Millennium students surely contributed to how perfectly the day went. They went beyond the mundane of simply instructing the basic skills, but asked questions, got to know the kids and bought out the true joy in sport.
The players knew how to connect and make the relationship so important to the essence of Best Buddies.
Brenton Hard, one of the New York Rumble Ultimate Frisbee players who worked with the Millennium students, talked about the differences between working with seasoned athletes and students with IDD.
“There were a lot of other high school students here [for clinics], but they’ve had backgrounds in this, they’ve played sports before,” says Hard. “But Eddie, for example, he said he has never played sports before, so it’s fun, you have to break it down to just the fundamentals, like ‘this is how you throw’…that’s how you can connect with someone.”
But while he teaches lessons in throwing and catching, he learns his own lessons from the students as well.
“One of the things I have learned from working with kids with developmental delays is the ability to change the way I communicate,” says Hard. “If someone doesn’t understand the way you say something the first time, you change the words, you change the language, change how you express yourself, and often times there isn’t a barrier…the barrier becomes non-existent.”
The impact that Best Buddies has certainly does not only travel in one direction, but instead positively influences everyone involved.
As Coach Nunez watches his players toss the Frisbee back and forth with the students, all the while smiling and chatting about favorite school subjects and activities to do, Nunez acknowledges the mutual enjoyment.
“When they’re working with these kids and the kids are looking up to them, and they get that realization, like oh wow, this is bigger than I thought it would be, the players get a lot out of that,” says Nunez.
“Plus the fact that the kids enjoy themselves, they love that A LOT” says Nunez. Nunez explains moments when the players love working with the kids, “(They enjoy it) especially after throwing with the kids or working with a kid for an hour or so, then the kids throws are getting better and better, the kid loves that. He learned something from it, and the players love it.”
“I actually instructed this person and am teaching them to be better,” says Nunez, regarding how the players feel after working with a student in Best Buddies.
Best Buddies allows for the students to escape the heat of summer in the city and enjoy time playing physical activities outdoors.
“It’s hard not being able to travel and to be able to get out of the city,” says Walton “So it’s great to get them out into the community and let them experience stuff.”
Hard also recognizes how important it is for the kids to be able to get outside and play.
“It’s great. It’s not an opportunity kids with developmental delays always get, where you get to get outside and have fun with athletes and learn new skills,” says Hard. “And that’s what it’s all about, to have fun.”
The Millennium students are lucky not only to be given these opportunities through Best Buddies, but to have the support and a family that will make it possible.
In working with a variety of different schools, Burgess highlights the differences made possible from supportive parents.
“A lot of the schools that we have now have heavy parental involvement, where the kids can come down to the city on Sunday morning for an event, the parents can drop them off or something like that,” says Burgess. “Where in a school that may not have the same privileges as that, you have to approach the programs differently.”
Best Buddies is currently looking to expand to more schools that don’t have such privileges where their skills and programs could truly make a difference for IDD students. Burgess expresses how the Best Buddies New York staff has doubled in size over the past several months and now they have more of a capability to reach more under-resourced schools.
“There is a big push and a big need for our programs in areas that we don’t have them,” says Burgess.
And meeting those needs is surely no easy feat. While some days are more difficult than others, Burgess recognizes how fortunate she is to be able to work with Millennium High School.
“They’re fun to hang out with [at Millennium],” says Burgess. “It’s a nice way to improve my day. If I’m having a crumby day, if it’s a Monday just kind of dragging on, I say, ya know what, it’s going to be a Millennium Monday today.”
And the look on the students faces as they are playing Frisbee with the professionals, or the light in their teacher’s eyes as she watches their excitement in learning something new, tells that that humbled gratification and appreciativeness is mutual from Millennium High School to Best Buddies.
The experience and memories taken away from a Best Buddies event such as this are invaluable, as Walton surely notes.
“Whether it’s for one student, 3 students, or 50 students, it doesn’t matter because they were happy and it made their day.”
If you would like to know more about Best Buddies in your school or community, or inquire about starting a Best Buddies program, you can get information here.
Anthony K. Shriver
Anthony K. Shriver is the Founder and Chairman of Best Buddies International, which he created in 1989 to foster one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Recognizing the tremendous volunteer potential of university students, Shriver first inspired his college peers to personally collaborate in expanding the realm of opportunities that persons with intellectual disabilities should experience.
Today, through Shriver’s stewardship and entrepreneurial spirit, Best Buddies® has grown into a leading nonprofit entity with increasing international reach across six continents, 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.
Best Buddies is comprised of eight programs that positively impact more than 800,000 individuals with and without disabilities worldwide. The organization is active in each of the 50 United States, and operates accredited international programs in over 50 countries.
Best Buddies is also systematically implementing its 2020 Initiative that will witness the organization’s continued significant growth, both domestically and overseas. A graduate of Georgetown University, Shriver has been recognized for his work on behalf of Best Buddies with diverse international accolades and honorary degrees. He resides in Miami Beach, together with his wife Alina and their five children.
International Headquarters: Miami, Florida
Mission: To establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
Vision: To put Best Buddies out of business.
About Best Buddies: Best Buddies International is the world’s largest nonprofit organization devoted solely to providing opportunities for friendship, employment and leadership development for people with IDD. In the United States, the organization’s 2014 cash budget is just over $26 million; globally, it approximates $39 million If Best Buddies had to pay its volunteers, operating costs would be closer to $200 million. 81% of all revenue goes directly to Best Buddies programs for people with IDD, while only 19% is spent on administration and fundraising.
Best Buddies High Schools: Fosters one-to-one friendships between students with and without IDD. The high school years are a time of heightened social and emotional development and can be difficult even for those without IDD. Best Buddies High Schools helps break through social barriers at an important time in a young person’s life.
History of Service: Best Buddies was born 25 years ago, when founder Anthony K. Shriver recognized that people with IDD lacked opportunities to socialize with their peers without disabilities. Believing that friendship is key to building the self-esteem essential to a happy and productive life, Shriver incorporated Best Buddies as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization in 1989. Today, Best Buddies offers eight programs: Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies®, Jobs, Ambassadors, and Promoters.
Participants: With more than 1,700 chapters around the world, Best Buddies positively impacts the lives of over 800,000 people with and without IDD.
Countries: Best Buddies operates accredited programs in more than 50 countries: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Lebanon, Macao, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, Spain, St. Kitts & Nevis, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Venezuela and Viet Nam, with additional country programs in advanced phases of development.
2020 Initiative: Best Buddies created the 2020 Initiative in 2011, with the goal of opening offices in all 50 states, expanding into 100 countries, and impacting three million people with and without IDD worldwide by the end of 2020. The initiative also includes plans to train 4,000 Buddy Ambassadors, develop 1,000 jobs for people with IDD around the world, and increase the number of school-based chapters to 2,500. As a result of these ambitious expansion efforts, Best Buddies hopes to become a household name by the end of 2020.
Spread the Word to End the Word: March 4, 2015. Worldwide. A global day of awareness for Best Buddies’ and Special Olympics’ Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, which is designed to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the r-word (“retard(ed)”) and encourage people to pledge to stop using it.
Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port: May 30, 2015. Boston & Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port, chaired by Tom Brady, is a 100, 50, or 20-mile cycling adventure from Boston to Hyannis Port, with an optional 5K run/ walk chaired by Olympian Carl Lewis. The event kicks-off with the Tom Brady Football Challenge and concludes with celebrity tandem races, a celebratory clambake, and a private concert.
Best Buddies Leadership Conference: July 17-20, 2015. Bloomington, Indiana. This annual Conference welcomes over 2,000 student and community leaders with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities from Best Buddies’ eight programs, and more than 300 staff professionals from throughout the world, to a four-day conference that prepares students to lead successful Best Buddies chapters in the upcoming year.
Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle: September 5, 2015. Carmel & San Simeon, California. The Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle, chaired by Maria Shriver, is a 100, 62, 30, or 15-mile cycling adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway, from Carmel to the renowned Hearst Castle in San Simeon, with an optional 5K run/walk led by Olympian Carl Lewis. The event kicks-off with the Best Buddies Golf Challenge and concludes with celebrity tandem races, a festive barbeque, and private concert at Hearst Ranch.
Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Washington, D.C.: October 17, 2015. Washington, District of Columbia & Leesburg, Virginia. Best Buddies hosts a five-star, family-friendly event featuring 100K and 100-mile bike rides from the National Monument to historic Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia, and a 20-mile bike ride in Washington, D.C. The event also features a tandem bike races, a 5K run/walk chaired by Olympian Carl Lewis, and a 5K Student Fun Run. It will conclude with a barbeque feast and private performance.
7th Annual Best Buddies Dallas Gala: November 2015. Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Gala is an incredible event, featuring a gourmet dinner, live and silent auctions, and a private concert, with Jan and Jeff Rich serving as Honorary Chairs to help support Best Buddies endeavors in Texas.
19th Annual Best Buddies Miami Gala: November 21, 2015. Miami, Florida. The 19th Annual Best Buddies Miami Gala is a spectacular event supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities around the world. Each year, more than 800 prominent local and international guests attend this elegant event, including notable celebrities, athletic superstars, and incredible performers. Guests will celebrate Best Buddies while enjoying a gourmet dinner, a top-notch auction, and dazzling entertainment. The day’s festivities will kick-off with the Best Buddies Challenge: Miami, a 62-mile ride, limited to only 50 cyclists. This exclusive ride features a Tour de France-style police escorted peloton with road and intersection closures, support vehicles, and three fully-stocked rest stops.