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A Best Buddies Story: Mikayla Holmgren

Meet Mikayla Holmgren, an inspiring young woman who is showing the world that a Down Syndrome diagnosis won’t stop her from chasing her dreams and who is inspiring others to do the same. Mikayla is a Best Buddies Ambassador, Board Member, and Champion. She was the first woman with Down Syndrome to run in the state Miss USA pageant. She won the 2019 MN Miss Amazing award. She’s been a guest on The Jason Show three times. She’s also spoken at the United Nations in New York City.

Below, she talks about all of these things as well as her passion for dance, some of her favorite experiences from Best Buddies conferences and her excitement about being involved in setting up a Best Buddies office in her home state of Minnesota.

 
A Best Buddies Story - Mikayla Holmgren
 

MTEAM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
MIKAYLA HOLMGREN:
My Name is Mikayla and I live in Minnesota on a lake with my mom and dad. My life is so full. I have many passions. My biggest passion is dance. I have danced since I was six. I have been involved in dance troupes, Pom and Cheer Squads. I enjoy dancing jazz, ballet, lyrical, hip hop and pointe. I have, and still do, compete at dance competitions. I choreograph my own solos. I have won numerous awards.

My other passion is art. I enjoy drawing, painting and photography.

I am involved in the Special Olympics. I am a gold medalist for Gymnastics level 3. I also play unified golf with my dad. Sometimes we get gold. Sometimes we get bronze. But we always have fun. This is my time to spend with dad.

I am a college graduate. I graduated from Bethel University’s BUILD program in 2018. I was able to learn life skills and independence. I worked toward getting a certificate in education. I was on their dance team and in choir.

A Best Buddies Story - Mikayla Holmgren

MTEAM: You’re an Ambassador, Board Member and a Champion for Best Buddies! How long have you been doing each of these roles and what do they entail?
MH:
I became an Ambassador for Best Buddies two years ago. I was running at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant and was looking for a platform. I heard about Best Buddies through the TV series “Born This Way”. When we called the Best Buddies office, they immediately got me involved. Last year, I became a Board Member and Champion as we worked towards opening an office in Minnesota. (We do not have an office yet, but hope to open one in January of 2020).

As a Ambassador, I learn to be a self-advocate and to be a voice in sharing about inclusion. As a Board Member, I get to give input as to what we want for our Minnesota chapter. As a Champion, I am chosen to help raise funds to open the state office. I get to hold mini fundraisers and collect donations online. I raised $13,000 last year and I hope to raise $15,000 this year.

 
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MTEAM: What value has Best Buddies brought to your own life?
MH:
Being a part of Best Buddies has brought me lots of new friends. I enjoy going to conferences every year. This year, my roommate Brittani was involved in pageants and gymnastics. We became friends instantly. She was my Buddy for the weekend. I wish she lived closer to me.

I am also able to go through Ambassador training, in which they help us write speeches and teach us to be self-advocates.

 
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MTEAM: What are some of the coolest things you’ve been able to do through your involvement with Best Buddies?
MH:
Being a part of Best Buddies, I’ve done so much.

At Conferences, I have spoken and danced, been part of the opening and closing ceremonies, the fashion shows, and a panel for students to ask us questions.

I was Co-Emcee at last year’s Minnesota Champion of the Year Gala alongside Christina Palladino from FOX9.

I shared the stage with Anthony Shrivers’ two daughters, Eunice and Francesca, as he explained that he would love to see the same opportunities for me, and all of those with Intellectual disabilities, as his daughters get to have.

I have met some incredible people, including, several members of Born This Way (Megan, Steven, JT, Kalie), actress Lauren Potter, and a Bachelor named Connor!

 
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MTEAM: Do you have a favorite memory from any of the past Best Buddies events you’ve attended?
MH:
My favorite and very touching memory of Best Buddies was at last year’s conference. I was asked to choreograph and dance to a choir of Best Buddies singing “A Million Dreams”. This performance was dedicated to the Best Buddies Parkland High students who were killed. It was very moving and everyone cried.

 
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MTEAM: Has your involvement with Best Buddies in any way influenced your career plans for the future?
MH:
Being a part of Best Buddies has made me more outspoken. I will work with children to be able to show them what inclusion looks like. I would love to have my own dance studio someday and to show that those with IDDs can have their own businesses.

 
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MTEAM: Are you partnered with a buddy of your own at the moment?
MH:
I am not currently partnered with a buddy. We are still on the ground level getting our office up and running in our state. But once it is up and running, I will be paired with someone. I can’t wait. I hope it is someone like my friend, Brittani from the conference!

 
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MTEAM: Who is someone you’ve met, through your advocacy for people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, who really inspires you and why?
MH:
I would say Megan Bomgaars, from Born This Way. We met two years ago at the Best Buddies conference. I had watched her show and was excited when I got to meet her. I loved how she can get in front of people and talk as a self advocate and tell them not to limit her and those with IDDs. I love that she started her own business “Megology”. She is an amazing lady. Over the past two years, we have become good friends. We FaceTime. She inspires me to be my best and to go after my dreams.

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MTEAM: You were the first woman with Down syndrome to run in the state Miss USA pageant. You won 2019 MN Miss Amazing. You were a guest on The Jason Show. How you hope to inspire and empower others through these experiences and others like them?
MH:
When I signed up for the Pageant, I did not know that it was “THE PAGEANT” . I just wanted to do it. When I realized what pageant it was and that I was going to be the first woman with Down Syndrome to run, I wanted to inspire others. The morning of the pageant, I text my mom that “I was going to be awareness for those with special needs”. I want to show the world that we are capable of doing so much.

As Minnesota Miss Amazing, I can use it as a platform to talk to groups about inclusion and what that means.

I have been on the Jason Show three times. Again, it is to show what we are able to achieve. Jason is so fun, and I hope to be on again.

I have had so many people tell me that they were inspired to do something because of seeing me on stage, in the pageant or on the Jason show. That is what I want. To inspire people go after their own dreams.

 
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MTEAM: You spoke at a women’s conference at the United Nations on Saving Down Syndrome. What was that experience like?
MH:
It was so cool to be at the United Nations and in New York City. It is some place that I never thought I would see. I met women from all over the world who wanted to take a photo with me.

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MTEAM: Can you tell us briefly some of the points you made in your speech at the UN?
MH:
When I speak, I tell about how the doctors did not believe that I would be able to walk or talk because of medical issues from me being premature and because I had lost oxygen. I believe that I am here to share my story and to show that those with Down Syndrome can reach for the stars and achieve. I tell people to look past the disability and see the ability.

 
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MTEAM: What are the key things that would make this world a more inclusive place for people who have Down Syndrome?
MH:
We need to teach and train others what Down Syndrome is like. We need to train employers. We need to train students. We need people to not be afraid to reach out to be a friend. Mostly it takes kindness. Just be kind to everyone.

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Candyce CarragherComment
10 Facts about Best Buddies International

How much do you know about Best Buddies International, the organization that the MTeam supports through fundraising and our annual participation in the Best Buddies Challenge? One of our top tips for MTeamers is to educate yourself on the cause your fundraising supports, so you can speak confidently when requesting donations. (For example, do you know where the money goes? If not, definitely head back to that post to read a detailed breakdown.)

 
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Below, we’ve rounded up 10 fun facts about Best Buddies. How many did you already know?

1.) ANTHONY KENNEDY SHRIVER FOUNDED THE FIRST BEST BUDDIES CHAPTER IN 1987. The first chapter was established at Georgetown University, which is still the biggest in the Washington, D.C. area. There was an article published in the Hoya newspaper which is still available to read here. 50 students were already paired with Buddies and Shriver is quoted saying, “The whole concept is more a socialization program. We want to get these kids out of their own little worlds and into the wider world.”

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2.) IN 2019, THERE’S A BEST BUDDIES CHAPTER ON 1,500 COLLEGE, HIGH SCHOOL, AND MIDDLE SCHOOL CAMPUSES. Anyone can start a chapter at their school with administration approval, student leaders with and without disabilities and a teacher who will be the chapter advisor, and a meeting time and place that works. Best Buddies University explains exactly how to set everything up, and leaders can then attend the annual Best Buddies Leadership Conference in Indiana where they are invited to network, engage and learn best practices.

3.) BEST BUDDIES HAS 2,900 CHAPTERS TOTAL, IN ALL 50 STATES AND A TOTAL OF 54 COUNTRIES SPANNING 6 CONTINENTS. There are a total of 125,150 people who currently participate in these chapters. New Zealand is the latest country currently under development, which will soon join the list. A selection of other places around the world that now have chapters include Tanzania, Uganda, Macao, Mongolia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Lebanon, and Qatar, among many, many others.

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4.) BEST BUDDIES HAS CLOSE TO 30 CELEBRITY AMBASSADORS. You may recognize a few of the names. Of course there’s Tom Brady, who has been the closest connection with the MTeam, especially Meredith, who he adores. Others include musicians Steve Aiko and Kenny G; NBA players Kyrie Irving, Chris Bosh, and Mario Chalmers; actors Rob Lowe, Pierce Brosnan, and Ron Howard; supermodel Cindy Crawford; actresses Elle Fanning and Marlee Matlin; Olympian Carl Lewis; and NFL player Emmitt Smith to name a few.

5.) THE ICONIC BEST BUDDIES LOGO WAS DONATED TO THE ORGANIZATION IN THE LATE 1980S, FROM LEGENDARY POP ARTIST KEITH HARING. The logo that Keith Haring created represents one-to-one affection and acceptance. Anthony Shriver met Keith Haring in his studio in New York City in the late 1980s: “He didn’t know me from a hole-in-the-wall, but he had a family member with special needs and understood the significance of the Best Buddies mission. He knew what a friend meant in his life and his family member’s life. He immediately told me he wanted to help and asked if he could donate our logo. The rest is history—and a form of magic.”

10 Facts about Best Buddies International

6.) IN 1993, THE BEST BUDDIES FINE ART COLLECTION WAS DEVELOPED. The original work in the Best Buddies Fine Art Collection included masterpieces by famous artists like Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg. They’ve since expanded their collection to include artwork by Julien Schnabel, Jim Dine, William Wegman, Jamie B. Wyeth, Romero Britto, Alain Despert, Helmet Koller, Mark Kostabi, Kenny Scharf, and Hunt Slonem. Best Buddies now partners with ArtSpace where they have prints for sale.

7.) IN 2018, SLIPKNOT DRUMMER JAY WEINBERG HELD A BENEFIT GIG FOR BEST BUDDIES, CALLED BUDDIES ON THE BEAT. It involved members of many other bands as well, from The Offspring to Dashboard Confessional. Jay first heard about Best Buddies through a Nashville Predators event. Now he is partnered with a Buddy of his own - Daniel, a 26-year-old IT technician and drummer who has autism. They meet up for dinner to talk about drums, and Jay helped Daniel set up his first official recording session. You can read more here., on Forbes.

 
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8.) BEST BUDDIES HAVE HELPED EMPLOY 1,369 PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES. With 84% of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities unemployed, there’s a very long way to go, but one of Best Buddies’ main missions if to build opportunities for integrated employment through their Jobs program. Their role is to match skilled and qualified individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with businesses that are seeking enthusiastic and dedicated employees, and to create and nurture those relationships with the people on both sides of that coin.

9.) IN 2015 A&E NETWORK PARTNERED WITH BEST BUDDIES TO PREMIERE A NEW DOCU-SERIES, BORN THIS WAY. For those who haven’t seen it, Born This Way chronicles the lives of young-adults with Down syndrome, several of whom are Best Buddies participants. Cameras follow them around “as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams, explore friendships, romantic relationships and work, all while defying society’s expectations.” Shriver hoped it would “demonstrate to society that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are just like everyone else and should be fully included in our communities, our workplaces and our lives.”

10.) BEST BUDDIES HAS FOUR MISSION PILLARS AND NINE FORMAL PROGRAM TYPES. The four mission pillars of Best Buddies drive all of their programs. These are one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living. The eight programs that support these mission pillars are: Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies® , Jobs, Ambassadors, Promoters, and Living (the newest addition). 83% of revenue goes directly to funding the Best Buddies programs, and the rest goes towards administration and fundraising.

Candyce CarragherComment
Best Buddies Challenge: Cycling Tips from Richard Fries, Director of Cycling Experience

Even though it’s not until May 2020, the Best Buddies Challenge is on our mind year round. Some MTeamers cycle 20 miles, some 50 miles, and others ride 100 miles. We keep training, perhaps with less intensity, through the summer, and then amplify our efforts at the end of winter.

We had the opportunity to ask Richard Fries, the Director of Cycling Experience at Best Buddies International, a few questions.

Below, he shares some excellent tips for training in all weathers, tells us about what to expect from the terrain of the 100 mile route, and talks about the gear you’ll need for the ride.

 
Photo: Richard Fries

Photo: Richard Fries

 

MTEAM: How long has the 100 mile ride in the Best Buddies Challenge been running?
RICHARD FRIES:
We just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port. Our 2020 event will be the 21st edition of our organization's single largest fundraiser.

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTEAM: Can you describe the course for the 100 mile ride during the Hyannis Port event?
RF:
Experienced cyclists describe our course as relatively flat, as it has no sizable or "categorized" climbs. But beginners are often stunned by how much climbing is on the course. Given the total elevation gain is more than 3,000 feet over 100 miles, the more accurate description is "rolling." Every rider agrees that the toughest climb is at mile 82 on what we call the "Capenberg". After a steady uphill grade of nearly two miles, riders turn left and face a short, steep climb to the highest point of the entire course.

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTEAM: Can you recommend a sample training schedule if those who are a bit rusty (or even complete beginners) and want to start getting into shape for the 2020 event now?
RF:
We stress one general principle: 'ride more; train less.' The most important thing is to establish a base of fitness. Think of it as scaffolding, stacking up fitness, month upon month, year upon year. There is no replacement - not spin class, not Peloton, not Zwift, not CrossFit - for long days on the road bike. These summer days are great for weekend tours. The key is to make them enjoyable and interesting. Ditch the car and ride to barbecues, beaches, mountains, lakes, etc. And remember to stop for coffee and ice cream and snacks. Keep it at a talking pace. Coming out of winter, however, we suggest a 12-week plan that can include some gym work, cross training, yoga, and spin classes. The first six weeks are simply building up that base strength. The second six weeks will include some intensity either doing intervals or climbing.

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTEAM: What’s your best tip for training on the hot summer days?
RF:
Riding on hot summer days can be fantastic. There are some easy tips to beat the heat, which include riding earlier in the day or closer to the evening, hydrating, altering our diet to include more fruits and vegetables, dressing appropriately, using safe sunscreen (note that one should carefully research the ingredients of sunscreen as the FDA has scrutinized many common ingredients used). Daunting as it may sound, night rides and urban adventures with good lights provide an amazing experience.

But full day rides through the heat of the day can also be improved through one's route selection. Riding at higher elevations will typically offer cooler temperatures. Another trick is to seek roads with tree cover. Better yet, consider riding the emerging network of rail trails and abandoned rail beds, which are always in the shade. Some of these paths, such as the Cape Cod Rail Trail, run longer than 20 miles in distance. Others, such as the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in the suburbs of Boston, run past ponds with swimming facilities. Another consideration is to enjoy wildlife refuges and state parks such as the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, which brings riders through cool wetlands. Another great experience can be had riding dirt, gravel and agricultural roads. Road bikes are fine for such use, but one should consider using a slightly wider tire in excess of 28 mm.

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTEAM: How about tips for cycling on freezing, snowy winter days?
RF:
To ride in winter, we subscribe to the Norwegian ethic: "No such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." Riding year round can be done with not just owning proper clothing, but keeping it organized. We recommend riding with just three layers: a base layer, a thermal layer (we suggest wool) and an outer shell. The most important thing is to focus on the five points: your head, your hands and your feet. Experienced riders may have different gloves for every five degrees of temperature. To survive long days in cold weather, veteran riders will carry two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and two hats, switching them out during a stop. The key is to keep dry. Finally, even on a sunny day, riders in New England will encounter wet roads. Invest in fenders; they make a huge difference.

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTEAM: How far in advance should someone who completed 100 miles in 2019 start training for the 2020 ride?
RF:
Just Keep Riding. Too many people fail to recognize their best training ride of the season was the Best Buddies ride. Build upon that scaffolding with continued rides through the summer. Our biggest suggestion would be to integrate commuting and utility cycling into one's routine.

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTEAM: What are some of the most important features to look for if you're purchasing a new bike for the 100 mile ride?
RF:
Modern bicycles are fantastic investments. We suggest purchasing a modern road bike with drop style handlebars. Improvements in shifting and braking systems have lowered the barriers to mastery. And with disc brakes, a cyclist can ride a wider tire that can roll with less air pressure, thereby making the ride more comfortable. And by simply changing the tires, one can switch from a pure road experience to dirt trail ride. Finally, beginners would be well-served to test ride a pedal-assist electronic bike. These bikes will roll at 20 mph, but still require the pilot to work hard.

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTeam, Best Buddies Challenge 2019

MTEAM: What other key accessories will you need for the ride?
RF:

MUST HAVE: Shoes, pedals, bib shorts (have at least 2 pairs)
SHOULD HAVE: Arm warmers, leg warmers, vest, rain coat
WANT TO HAVE: Decent cycle-computer with GPS device and a heart rate monitor
DELUXE: Power meter

Photo: Richard Fries - Director of Cycling Experience, Best Buddies

Photo: Richard Fries - Director of Cycling Experience, Best Buddies

MTEAM: Any other tips / thoughts / recommendations / etc...?
RF:
Repeat this mantra: Go easy when it's hard; go hard when it's easy. That is the secret to endurance riding.

A beginner and novice should focus as much on riding skills as they do on fitness. This includes getting experience riding with groups on the road.

Finally, the riders who attend the Best Buddies training rides report a huge improvement in their skills and fitness. And we have fun. Try to attend as many as possible!

Candyce CarragherComment
A Best Buddies Story: Dana Brown

Meet Dana Brown, a Best Buddies Ambassador in Tampa, Florida. Below she talks about growing up, how Best Buddies made an impact on her life, and one of the coolest memories she has so far from her time as an Ambassador.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
DANA BROWN:
I am from Tampa, Florida, and I work at Greenwise Publix. My department is customer service as a bagger. I am a triplet. I have two brothers but I am the oldest. From the very beginning, my brothers were crawling, talking, and walking before me. They were leaving me in the dust! After testing, I was identified with a global delay. Through the years, I have had speech, physical, and occupational therapy and worked very hard. But due to my delays, I was a shy and quiet young girl. When people spoke, they talked so fast it was hard for me to follow what they said and it made it difficult to connect socially. I had to attend my own schools different from my brothers. Now, I live with my parents. I like to go to lunch and Starbucks and concerts and shopping with my friends. I have my own dog and I drive.

 
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MTEAM: When and how did you become an ambassador for Best Buddies?
DB:
I became an ambassador in 2012 when they asked me to be in the ambassador class.

 
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MTEAM: Why is this role important to you?
DB:
I’m learning how to do speeches, and speak in front of people. One day, I hope to become a Global Ambassador.

 
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MTEAM: What are some of the coolest things you've been able to do as a Best Buddies Ambassador?
DB:
I got to go to school and speak, and I got to go on a cruise with Best Buddies. I did a speech on the cruise in front of Anthony Shriver and the staff.

 
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MTEAM: What do you love most about the Best Buddies?
DB:
I love meeting new people. It has helped me not to be shy and to have a lot of friends.

 
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MTEAM: Do you have a favorite memory from any of the past Best Buddies events you've attended?
DB:
When I spoke in front of Anthony Shriver.

 
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MTEAM: Are you partnered with a buddy of your own at the moment? If so, tell us about him/her and some of the things you do together.
DB:
Yes, I have a buddy now. We went to Starbucks together. She is a very nice person and we both like Starbucks.

 
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MTEAM: Have you met anyone through Best Buddies who really inspires you?
DB:
Christopher Dourov. I met him at a Best Buddies event. I admire him. He always helps me and is always there to listen and is very caring. He always looks out for me. [Christopher Dourov is the Deputy Director of Jobs in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.]

 
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MTEAM: How would you explain Best Buddies to someone who has never heard of the organization before?
DB:
Best Buddies International helps with one-to-one friendship for people who have a disability!

 
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MTEAM: Has your involvement with Best Buddies in any way influenced your career plans for the future? 
DB:
Yes. I’d like to become a Global Ambassador and work for Best Buddies. 

A Best Buddies Story: Alphonso Murphy

Meet Alphonso Murphy, a global ambassador for Best Buddies International, the organization that the MTeam supports through our fundraising efforts. Alphonso shared his personal story with us and the reasons why he values Best Buddies and their mission of inclusion, talks about the role he envisions Best Buddies will play in his future, and shares one of his favourite Best Buddies memories from his decade involved with the organization.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
ALPHONSO MURPHY:
Hello, my name is Alphonso Murphy. I’m from Tampa, Florida. I enjoy hanging out with my friends, going to the movies, shopping at H&M and Old Navy, and going to Disney world. I enjoy traveling and flying to new countries and places; my goal is to one day travel to Paris, France, to see all the historic sites and museums, which are my favorite places to visit. I'm also known for my laugh; it’s so contagious, it causes a chain reaction!

Interesting fact: I was 1 lb. 12oz when I was born, three months early. The doctors thought I was not going to be able to live. I was diagnosed with a slow learning disability, a mild case of cerebral palsy, and a seizure disorder ( although I was taken off of medication when I was 12-years-old). God had other plans for my life. In the sad loss of my mother Theresa Miller, she would tell everyone that I was her miracle baby. Now, I have the opportunity to share my miracle story with you.

Currently, I'm a full time student at Hillsborough Community College, majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

 
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MTEAM: How long have you been involved in Best Buddies and why it the group’s mission of inclusion close to your heart?
AM:
I have been involved with the organization for 10 years. When I think about the mission, it brings me to tears. It’s dear to my heart, because when I was in middle school, I was bullied; my book bag was thrown into the shower in the boys locker room and a student put a weight on my leg while I was in the weight room. Now staying true to the mission, Best Buddies helped me gain independence, leadership skills, and most of all building long lasting friendships with my buddies Matt, Amit, EJ, and Nick, along with other friends that I hang out with.

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MTEAM: When and how did you become a global ambassador for Best Buddies?
AM:
On September 6, 2018, I completed an ambassador employment training with my state chapter USF. Then, on October 26, 2018, I was asked by Jaclyn Clark, a former program manager for my chapter, to speak with my buddy EJ at our Champion of the Year gala. Mrs. Ashlee Simmens and Mr. David Quilleon liked how I delivered my speech, and that is how I became a global ambassador for Best Buddies.

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MTEAM: What are some of the coolest things you get to do as an ambassador for Best Buddies?
AM:
I get to network with different people and, share my story, participate, and help out with different events through best buddies. And I get to speak at different cool events like the Hyannis Port Best Buddies Challenge.

 
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MTEAM: What do you love most about the Best Buddies and why is their work important? How have they helped to support you personally?
AM:
I love developing the one-on-one friendships and to be able to share my story no matter where I go. It gives young adults with disabilities a chance to advocate for their rights and to be able to have employment opportunities, and gain independence to excel in the world.

 
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MTEAM: How do you see Best Buddies playing a role in your future? Do you have a career path you’d love to follow in mind?
AM:
I would love to travel around with Best Buddies to different countries, speaking and sharing my life story on how I overcame so many obstacles in my life, to inspire others with all types of disabilities that there is hope; you just have to keep the faith and always stay positive! And yes, I would like to become a professional motivational speaker.

 
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MTEAM: How would you explain Best Buddies to someone who has never heard of the organization before?
AM:
I would first give them a short elevator speech with my name and how best buddies has impacted my life, and leave them with my business card. Than I would invite the person to come out to one of our Best Buddies functions that we have on USF campus to help them get more involved and to see if they would like to be matched with a young adult that has a disability.

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MTEAM: Have you met anyone through Best Buddies who really inspires you? Who and how so?
AM:
Kellie Howard. Not only is she one of my closest friends and like my big sister, but she has a cool genuine love for Best Buddies and, despite all she had to go through growing up, she does not let anyone limit her abilities to be excel in life.

 
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MTEAM: Do you have a favorite memory from your time with Best Buddies?
AM:
When I first became team captain of my chapter back in April 2013, it was hard trying to call every member on my team to push them so we could win the next incentive, and sending inspirational messages to post on the team page to inspire their family and friends to give more funds so we could go to the Best Buddies Leadership Conference, but through staying positive and a whole lot of praying, we came in second place. We even won the VIP tent that year!

 
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MTEAM: What would you say to someone who was considering about supporting Best Buddies or joining a Best Buddies Challenge community like the MTeam, but not sure whether to go ahead?
AM:
The sky is the limit. Sometimes you have to go out and try new things. You never know what you can do. Doors are waiting to open just for you. Inclusion is the key to happiness!

 
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24 Motivational Cycling Quotes to Inspire You for the Best Buddies Challenge

There’s just over 10 months to go until the Best Buddies Challenge, but there’s no better time to start training for a cycle ride that pushes your current boundaries than now.

Some dedicated MTeamers tackle the 100 mile ride each year; others take on the 50 mile ride; and quite a few others enjoy riding 20 miles. Whichever ride you’re training to complete in May 2020, it’s always great idea to ride consistently throughout the year, ramping up your efforts as you feel comfortable with your current accomplishments.

 
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We’ll be checking in with some more specific tips in the coming weeks and months, but in the meantime, we hope you feel inspired by these motivational cycling quotes!

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” – John F Kennedy

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

“You are one ride away from a good mood.” - Sarah Bentley

“Your bike is discovery; your bike is freedom. It doesn't matter where you are, when you're on the saddle, you're taken away.” - Doug Donaldson

 
“Your bike is discovery; your bike is freedom. It doesn't matter where you are, when you're on the saddle, you're taken away.” - Doug Donaldson.png
 

“[Commuting by bicycle is] an absolutely essential part of my day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating. I get to go out and pedal through the countryside in the early morning hours, and see life come back and rejuvenate every day as the sun is coming out.” - James L. Jones

“One of the most important days of my life, was when I learned to ride a bicycle.” — Michael Palin

“Ever bike? Now that's something that makes life worth living!...Oh, to just grip your handlebars and lay down to it, and go ripping and tearing through streets and road, over railroad tracks and bridges, threading crowds, avoiding collisions, at twenty miles or more an hour, and wondering all the time when you're going to smash up. Well, now, that's something! And then go home again after three hours of it...and then to think that tomorrow I can do it all over again!” - Jack London

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” - H.G. Wells

“Training is like fighting with a Gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the Gorilla is tired.” - Greg Henderson

 
“Your bike is discovery; your bike is freedom. It doesn't matter where you are, when you're on the saddle, you're taken away.” - Doug Donaldson (1).png
 

“The bicycle saves my life every day. If you've ever experienced a moment of awe or freedom on a bicycle; if you've ever taken flight from sadness to the rhythm of two spinning wheels, or felt the resurgence of hope pedalling to the top of a hill with the dew of effort on your forehead; if you've ever wondered, swooping down bird-like down a long hill, if the world was standing still; if you have ever, just once, sat on a bicycle with a singing heart and felt like an ordinary human touching the gods, then we share something fundamental. We know it's all about the bike.” - Robert Penn

“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.” - Frances E. Willard

“I have always struggled to achieve excellence. One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.” - Greg LeMond

“For those who race, there’s no better sensation than being on top of your gear making mountains feel like flat roads. Cycling throws up plenty of obstacles, unknown territory, high speed split-second considerations. Where to next? What’s around the next corner? Who cares? You’re flyin’!” - Cadel Evans

“Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world.” - Grant Petersen

 
“Your bike is discovery; your bike is freedom. It doesn't matter where you are, when you're on the saddle, you're taken away.” - Doug Donaldson (3).png
 

“My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything.” - Peter Golkin

“Cycling is my ideology, a system of thought based on purity and economy of motion, kindness to the environment and drop handlebars, and I want to convert others.” - Robert Hanks

“Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.” – Eddy Merckx

“Cycling does it all – you have the complete satisfaction of arriving because your mind has chosen the path and steered you over it; your eyes have seen it; your muscles have felt it; your breathing, circulatory and digestive systems have all done their natural functions better than ever, and every part of your being knows you have traveled and arrived.” - John Foreste

“The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it.” – Doug Bradbury

 
“Your bike is discovery; your bike is freedom. It doesn't matter where you are, when you're on the saddle, you're taken away.” - Doug Donaldson (4).png
 

“You can’t get good by staying home. If you want to get fast, you have to go where the fast guys are.” – Steve Larsen

“After a long day on my bicycle, I feel refreshed, cleansed, purified. I feel that I have established contact with my environment and that I am at peace. On days like that I am permeated with a profound gratitude for my bicycle … What a wonderful tonic to be exposed to bright sunshine, drenching rain, choking dust, dripping fog, rigid air, punishing winds!” - Paul de Vivie

“There is beauty in silence and there is silence in beauty and you can find both in a bicycle!” - Mehmet Murat ildan

“A bicycle is a bit like a guitar in that they are both inert objects that only come alive and flourish when put in contact with a human being. Both have the ability to concentrate the mind. Just as when you are performing, you tend to lose yourself when you are on the bike. For those precious hours that you are in the saddle, nothing else matters except the bike and the road ahead.” - Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp

“When your legs scream stop and your lungs are bursting, that’s when it starts. That’s the hurt locker. Winners love it in there” – Chris McCormack

Feeling inspired? We’re welcoming new cyclists to the MTeam for 2020!

10 Minutes With: Jennifer Bothe

Meet Jennifer, a nurse, and mom to Ella and Ethan. Below she talks about what it’s like to have a child (Ethan) who was born with Chromosome 18q Deletion Syndrome, the wonderful sibling relationship between Ella and Ethan, and how deciding to share her story publicly through her blog and Instagram opened up a huge support network.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
JENNIFER BOTHE:
My name is Jennifer Bothe and I grew up in a small town called Sherwood Park, which is located in Alberta, Canada. Sherwood Park was home for 29 years, and then we got an opportunity to move to the USA (North Carolina) for my husband's job which we decided to take, and we have been here since 2015. I have two children, Ella (3-years-old) and Ethan (15-months-old), and 2 dogs (Dexter and Maya).

DD photography (Deanna Decker photography)

DD photography (Deanna Decker photography)

DD photography (Deanna Decker photography)

DD photography (Deanna Decker photography)

MTEAM: Ethan was born with Chromosome 18q Deletion Syndrome. For those who haven’t heard of this, can you help us understand a bit about what it is and how it manifests itself?
JB:
Chromosome 18q Deletion is a rare genetic condition which leads to a variety of medical diagnoses. It occurs in 1/55,000 children, and can be inherited from a parent or it can be "de novo" meaning it is unique to the child. Ethan's case is "de novo" meaning neither myself nor Kyle has any characteristics of the deletion. Just as the condition is rare and unique, so is its presentation in each individual child. Every case manifests differently, and therefore the doctors cannot paint a very accurate picture of what Ethan's future will look like. We are working mostly with % chance of him developing various medical conditions.

So far, Ethan has largely been affected by his deletion from a developmental and growth standpoint. He has hypotonia (which means very low muscle tone), which can make it difficult for him to achieve his motor milestones. The low muscle tone has also contributed to some swallowing difficulties, so he has dysphagia and needs to have feeding therapy. He struggles with a lot of difficulties with allergies, which present both anaphylactically and through severe eczema, and he has been diagnosed with FPIES (Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis). Most recently, we have found that Ethan has a severe growth hormone deficiency, and we are looking into insurance approval to start hormone replacement therapy. A lot of 18q- children have cognitive delays as well, but Ethan is too young for us to know the true extent of his cognitive abilities.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a bit more about Ella and Ethan (How old are they? What do they love most? What makes them happy? What makes them uniquely Ella and Ethan??)
JB:
Ella is 3-years-old. She is fiercely independent, and firey. Her aunt describes her as an old soul because despite her free spirit she is undeniably caring and empathetic. Ella was recently diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), meaning she has problems with the motor pathways of speech development. She knows what she wants to say and has no difficulties with understanding, but she cannot make her mouth do what she wants in order to make her speech intelligible. She is in speech therapy 3x a week and has made incredible progress. My heart breaks for her when I know she is trying to tell us something and we cannot understand, but she is incredibly determined and has made amazing progress even in the last four months, so I know this is something she will be able to overcome. She loves her family, swimming, dancing, going to the park, playing hockey/soccer outside, horses, and Paw Patrol. She's also incredibly funny and full of personality.

Ethan is so different from his sister. He is cuddly and affectionate and a lot less fearless. He is without a shadow of a doubt the sweetest, most genuinely happy soul I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. His big brown eyes and smile bring joy to any room. He spends most of his days giggling and smiling. He is social and loves to interact with people and has an undeniable ability to make whomever he encounters instantly fall in love with him. Since he started crawling, he gets into all sorts of trouble, it's amazing as a mother to see his natural curiosity blossom even if it keeps me on my toes! He loves Ella, his family, his puppies, The Wiggles, dancing to any music, playing in the water, and being cuddled.

 
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MTEAM: What’s a typical day in Ethan’s life like?
JB:
Every day is different! But a typical week involves a lot of therapy. Ethan currently participates in physical therapy, occupational therapy and feeding therapy on a weekly ongoing basis. It's funny how fast these providers work their way into your family, and we truly think of them as family now. Without their help and early intervention, I think it's safe to say that Ethan would not be nearly as far along as he currently is. We are so grateful for all their help. Between the regular therapy, we have a lot of appointments with specialists. cranial specialist (for his plagiocephaly, which is why he wears a helmet), GI doctor, urologist, allergist, orthopedic surgeon, endocrinologist, and more. When we are not at the doctor, we are busy playing together or with our friends or, practicing his skills.

 
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MTEAM: What have been some of your biggest challenges and the best rewards along your journey with Ethan so far?
JB:
I think the biggest of my challenges have been emotional. Yes, you become busy and it's hard to balance everything, but the emotional weight that having a child with unique needs brings is something that is impossible to understand until you are living it. It is so incredibly difficult to watch your baby go through such big challenges in life (especially at such a young age). I've said before that I think this is where the expression "loving someone so much it hurts" comes from, because seeing your children hurt makes you, as a parent, hurt ten-fold. No one wants to watch their child struggle in any capacity, so being forced to do this over and over can be grueling. It was important for me to find people to talk to, and to accept that Ethan is on his own unique timeline and shouldn't be compared to anyone else. Once I allowed myself this little bit of grace, things have been so much easier. As for rewards, I think every day I get to spend with Ethan is a gift. Having a child with unique needs comes with a lot of uncertainty about their future, so I try to see every single day as a blessing.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a bit about Ella and Ethan’s relationship. What do they like to do together? Do you have any advice for parents on how to explain a special needs diagnosis to a sibling?
JB:
Ella is an incredible sibling to Ethan. I really hit the jackpot with her as a sister. Ethan could spend all day laughing at her crazy antics and he is in complete awe of her. As a mother, it is so heartwarming to see them interact. His love for her is undeniable and to say he already looks up to her would be an understatement. Ella is the perfect sister for Ethan. She senses his vulnerability which allows her to be extremely empathetic and caring. She never hesitates to lend a hand with Ethan; she loves to feed him, help with baths, share her snacks and toys with him, help take care of him, and give him hugs and kisses when he is hurt (or even when he isn't). When he cries, she always tries to make him laugh to cheer him up. She also watches all of his therapy appointments very closely (she is fiercely protective). I can see their bond growing stronger every single day. He makes her a better person and learns so much from her.

As for advice on explaining a diagnosis to a sibling, I have none... does anyone have advice for me?! Ha ha! Truthfully, we haven't told Ella that Ethan is any different than any other child, and as a result she doesn't treat him any differently, and I think that's what most children with different needs want. They just want to be loved and treated the same as anyone else.

 
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10 Minutes With: Jennifer Bothe.JPG

MTEAM: Share a memory of one time you were especially proud of each of your children!
JB:
I know this sounds cliche, but I am truly proud of each of them every day. They both fight their own battles, but I'm so proud of who they are becoming. Ella is polite, kind and loving and her speech is getting more intelligible every single day. Every speech session she takes part in fills me with pride because she works SO hard coming up with the right sounds and words. And when she finally achieves something very difficult that she's been working on for a long time, she beams with the same pride that I do! I make a point of telling her how proud we are of her and all her efforts every single day.

Like Ella, I'm proud of Ethan every day. Every test, procedure ,and doctors appointment, no matter what they are doing, he meets it with a smile. He is already very patient, allowing clinicians to poke and prod him, and his positivity is contagious. Something that really sticks out to me is when Ethan started to crawl. It was something we were told he may never do, so after 14 months of working towards it, to watch him actually accomplish it filled me with overwhelming and intense emotions. It was so raw and real, I cried and cried. I was so unbelievably proud of him.

 
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Jennifer Bothe Q&A..jpg
 

MTEAM: Your blog and Instagram are full of beautiful stories and photos, especially of your family. What role has this community played for you along your journey as a special needs family and why are these creative outlets important to you?
JB:
I don't think I could possibly put into words how important the "special needs" community has been for us. After receiving Ethan's diagnosis, I felt broken and lost. Living in a different country with no family or friends really didn't help that feeling, so I started aimlessly searching around, desperate to connect to someone who knew what we were going through. I found a few 18q- groups and the research society, but it wasn't until about six months ago when I started my Instagram page and blog for Ethan that I really started to feel this sense of community.

Kyle and I had a long talk about sharing Ethan's story publicly, we had been extremely private people up to that point (except with our close friends and family), and in fact a lot of our closest friends didn't even know about Ethan's medical diagnosis... but it was those feelings of being lost and disconnected with the special needs community that spurred me on to publicize Ethan's journey. I think it was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. All my fears about posting publicly have been replaced by the overwhelming sense of community and positivity. I can truly say that some of the social media relationships that I have fostered as a result are now true friendships. It's also an incredible platform to raise awareness for rare diseases and conditions, and even as a nurse I am learning so much every day about different conditions from other parents who share about their children too. It's so amazing to find a group of people who truly get what you are going through on a day-to-day basis even if their child doesn't have the same diagnosis. We have expanded our cheering section by hundreds of people and I'm so grateful to everyone cheering Ethan (and Ella) on from afar.

 
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MTEAM: What key changes would make this a more inclusive world for children like Ethan who have special needs?
JB:
This is such a tough question. When you google the word inclusion, the definition that comes up is "a model whereby special needs students spend most of their time with non-special needs students."

Frankly, inclusion is a lot more than a child's proximity to children with different needs than theirs. It transcends just actions... It's an entire thought process. It's acceptance and welcoming. It's how you talk to families. It's equality and opportunity. It's appreciation, participation, and respect, and it's treatment. It's how you treat those around you who may be different in any way.

As parents it's really important to put information out there, to continue to advocate and be a voice for our children who can't speak for themselves. Doing interviews and articles like these are a great first step to raising awareness. A quote that I read a long time ago that has always stuck with me is, "I wouldn't change you for the world, but I would change the world for you.”

RB Campbell photography

RB Campbell photography

SW photography (Stacey Williams photography)

SW photography (Stacey Williams photography)

MTEAM: If there was one thing you’d most like the world to know or understand about Ethan or about Chromosome 18q Deletion Syndrome generally, what would it be?
JB:
The message I would choose to convey about 18q or any medical diagnosis really is that you need to expect the unexpected. Children are so resilient and so much stronger than we give them credit for. Your child will do so many things that all children do, but it will be on their own timeline, so don't compare them to other kids. They are unique. Allow yourself to accept that things will happen at a different rate and you will be able to celebrate even the tiniest milestones as huge successes! Miracles happen every day, so never give up on your child!

A Best Buddies Story: Alan Raskin

Meet Alan Raskin who has been a global ambassador for Best Buddies for just over a year. Below, he talks about how his personal experience with bullying and the inclusive mindset of Best Buddies lead him to join this community, which has since incfluenced the career path he intends to pursue.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
ALAN RASKIN:
I'm from Rochester, NY. I love travelling and learning new information. I NEVER pass up on an opportunity to try something new. I like to write creatively (short stories, poems, etc.) Most importantly, I love Best Buddies and all they do for the community.

 
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MTEAM: When and how did you become an ambassador for Best Buddies?
AR:
I did speeches before through my local office. I saw inequality as a huge problem, and I wanted to change my community. In February 2018, I did a TEDx Talk about ableism in our middle schools and high schools. I don't know how the process worked exactly, but about a month later, when the speech was visible on YouTube, my program manager informed me that I was offered to be a global ambassador. I was excited, scared, and confused all at once. But, like I said earlier, I don't pass up great opportunities, so I took it, and I'm glad I did.

 
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MTEAM: Why is this role important to you?
AR:
This role is important to me because it's how I can make my mark on the world. Everyone has a purpose to help the world, and people find careers in the ways that they can help the world best. For me, I see a lot of inequality, bullying, and exclusion, and I'm not afraid to stand up to it. I can speak publicly and spread inclusion—both things that I genuinely love doing. Global Ambassadors is a way I can do those things. It gives me the knowledge that what I say in my speeches makes an impact, and that motivates me to do more every day.

 
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MTEAM: What do you love most about the Best Buddies? What value has this organization brought to your own life?
AR:
Best Buddies has without a doubt changed my life. When I joined two years ago, I was very shy and didn't speak much. Through our chapter meetings, I slowly opened myself up to more friendships. With the help of Best Buddies, I turned from a barely speaking person to a confident advocate and activist. I can tell you, nothing could have really prepared me for 8th grade, when a group of students was bullying me. But, it was the inclusive people of Best Buddies that helped get me through that time and get the help I needed. I now look at my life from a completely different viewpoint. I am more inclusive, more confident, and infinitely happier thanks to Best Buddies.

 
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MTEAM: Do you have a favorite memory from any of the past Best Buddies events you've attended?
AR:
The main Best Buddies event that I've been to is the Leadership Conference in Indiana. I believe it was the second day there, I was working with other ambassadors and members of YLC, and we were talking about how we can use our strengths to help the world around us. I guess, at one point, I stopped feeling like I was with a community, and I started feeling like I was a part of the community. I really felt appreciated, like my ideas had a place to belong, and so did everyone else's ideas. Meeting and communicating with such impactful and supportive people was life-changing.

 
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MTEAM: Are you partnered with a buddy of your own at the moment? If so, tell us about him/her and some of the things you do together.
AR:
I am currently partnered in a buddy pair with a student in my school named Veronica. Although this was our first year together, and with the stresses of high school it can be hard to set aside time for us, we still managed to see each other as much as possible. We see each other often in the hallway, and we stop just to have a chat. We've gone bowling before, and it was really fun! It feels like what a high school friendship should be, and that's the goal of these buddy pairs.

 
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MTEAM: Have you met anyone through Best Buddies who really inspires you? If so, who?
AR:
While I have met countless inspiring people through Best Buddies, if I had to pick one in specific, it would be Alphonso Murphy. He and I met last year at LC. He always had a smile on his face and a joke in his back pocket. He's a really great person to be around, and on top of that, the work he does is incredible. He and I are currently working together on YLC, and he's been the best mentor and friend I could ask for there.

 
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MTEAM: How would you explain Best Buddies to someone who has never heard of the organization before?
AR:
It really depends on the situation there. What I do, personally, is find the way that Best Buddies can best impact the person I'm talking to, and I emphasize that point. For example, If I'm talking to a student, they would most likely want to hear details about the one-to-one friendship programs we have. I start off with our goal, to create inclusion between people with and without IDD (Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities). Then, I talk about what we do specifically, and I always make sure to have a few statistics ready so I can explain why exclusion is a serious problem and how Best Buddies is helping create inclusion. If necessary, I might throw in a personal story. I've learned to read whatever situation I'm in to decide what points to emphasize.

 
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MTEAM: Has your involvement with Best Buddies in any way influenced your career plans for the future?
AR:
Definitely. I didn't have much of an idea for a career before Best Buddies. I was thinking about either an architect or a chef (now I say that and laugh). Because of what I've learned through Best Buddies, I have taken an interest in pursuing law. We've gone a long way in terms of laws that help people with disabilities and other minorities, but they can be improved. Given that, I want to be a lawmaker, and I want to continue working with Best Buddies well into my later life.

 
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MTEAM: What key changes would make the world a more inclusive place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?
AR:
I think the key changes to having a more inclusive world would be having a more inclusive mindset. This means things like ensuring that wheelchair accessible ramps, ASL interpreters, inclusive classes, and more aren't an "extra thing" that places can have, but rather a necessity that more places need to have. This is just where we start to solve the problem, though. From what I have experienced, our middle schools and high schools aren't doing their part in creating inclusivity. Very often, we see cliques of students bullying other students, especially ones with disabilities. Very often, people make excuses for this exclusionary behavior, saying, "teens will be teens" or, "you can't expect kids to abide by these rules." But, we can. To start creating an inclusive environment, we have to start at the root of the problem: the schools and teens. By holding students to a higher standard of kindness, inclusion, and empathy, we can prepare our next generations of leaders for the diverse environment they will be in beyond high school. And, we can further include people with disabilities in our world.

 
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Looking Back: The Best Buddies Challenge 2019

First of all, thank you!

If you were an MTeamer during our fourth year participating in the Best Buddies Challenge, thank you. We had nearly 60 members this year. If you were one of our incredible corporate sponsors, thank you. If you donated to one of our team members, thank you. If you helped share our messages on social media, thank you.

Thank you to Meredith Lewis for being the best Chief Motivating Officer.

And thank you to John Christian, MTeam Captain, who keeps us all on our toes and whose vision, leadership and generosity has transformed us into the force we are together today. Of course, he has a message for you:

“This is our 4th year participating in the Best Buddies Challenge. We started with six people four years ago, and we were 60+ this year. I have never seen so many happy, smiling, and committed MTeamers in one place. I am still riding the wave of love and energy from this year’s experience and want to thank all of you for your passion and support for our community. Let’s make this 100 people for 2020!”  - John

 
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The Fundraising

Together, we raised an estimated $150,000 for Best Buddies in our 2019 season.

This money will go toward the programs that Best Buddies has designed to make the world a more inclusive place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in areas of employment, leadership, friendship and inclusive living. You can read more about their fiscal responsibility, each of those programs and where that money actually goes on our blog.

It’s only by coming together as a team and community that we could make the sort of impact that we’ve made this year, but we also want to give an extra special shoutout to our top 10 fundraisers who deserve recognition for their efforts:

 
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Amazing work, everyone!

We also could not have made the impact we did without the help of our incredible and generous corporate sponsors: CAPA The Global Education Network, The Urban Hound, Anglo Educational Services and Apex Velo. We appreciate the ongoing support from all of you.

 
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The Best Buddies Challenge: Cycling, Running and Walking

Beyond fundraising, we also have some wins to celebrate in the physical challenges of the event! We’re thrilled to announce that three MTeamers placed among the top three in their chosen races.

Congratulations to Travis Wold for coming in at number one in the men’s 100 mile cycle ride.

Congratulations to Spencer MacAlaster for coming in at number three in the men’s 100 mile cycle ride.

And congratulations to Catherine Colon for coming in at number three in the women’s 5k run with a time of 23:27.

 
Left to Right:   Travis, Spencer and Catherine after their races

Left to Right: Travis, Spencer and Catherine after their races

 

Incredible effort from all of you and amazing accomplishments to be proud of. To everyone who pushed their physical limits for the Best Buddies Challenge, whatever those may be, a huge congratulations to all of you too.

The Jerseys

This year, we sent Spencer Williams up on stage to model our jerseys for a fashion show and competition. We’re very proud to have been the recipients of the Best Design and Concept award. If you know the story behind our jerseys, you’ll understand why we won. Plus, just look at them, right?!

Mer’s dad Greg reflected on Meredith’s experience at the event:

“Meredith recently enjoyed her 4th consecutive Best Buddies Challenge as a member of the MTeam! This year was especially memorable because the artwork that Mer created with her eyes was incorporated into our MTeam jersey design. Winning best jersey design was outstanding but, more importantly, it is a representation of how this event is so much more than one weekend. The MTeam is an inspiring movement driven by passion, love and the desire to empower all involved. 2020 here we come!!”

 
 

Press Coverage

Greg and Laura Lewis advocate tireless for Meredith (the “M” in our MTeam and our Chief Motivating Officer). Greg had the opportunity to speak with some local news teams to share the MTeam story and we are grateful that several of them, including CBS News and NBC Boston included us in their footage of the event. (Click the links to watch!)

 
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The MTeam Experience

Our wonderful videographer Aaron Wong captured some footage of the event that we’re excited to share with you:

 
 

From the community spirit that we felt with all of the MTeamers together in one place, to meeting the buddies, cycling, running, walking, enjoying the food and concert, it’s safe to say it was an experience worth repeating.

And we will be.

We’ve signed up for our 5th year as the MTeam already. Registration is now open. Join us for 2020?

10 Minutes With: Jennie Wilklow-Riley

Meet Jennie, mom to three kids, including Anna, her youngest, who was born with a rare genetic disorder called Harlequin Ichthyosis. Below, she talks to us about life with Anna, her passion for helping other families who are touched by the same condition, and how confidence and kindness will go a long way in making Anna’s future a place where she will feel accepted and included.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family. 
JENNIE WILKLOW-RILEY:
My name is Jennie Wilklow-Riley and I am married to James Riley. We are from upstate New York and have three kids: Andres (10), James (4), and Anna (20 months). We have three dogs and two cats and we really just had a peaceful average life.

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MTEAM: Your daughter Anna was born with Harlequin Ichthyosis. How common is it? Can you explain a bit about what it is exactly for those who are unfamiliar and how it has manifested itself in Anna’s life in particular? 
J W-R:
Our daughter Anna was born on September 17, 2017 with Harlequin Ichthyosis. This an ultra rare genetic disorder that affects an estimated 1 in 500,000 to a million births annually. Estimated numbers vary greatly because of how rare it is. This disorder is from a genetic mutation on the Abca12 gene that causes the outer layer of skin to not form correctly. 

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a bit more about Anna! (How old is she? What does she love most? What makes her happy? What makes her uniquely Anna??)
J W-R:
Because of the skin not forming correctly, Anna’s body creates skin at an accelerated rate in an attempt to fix itself. Anna produces skin at ten time the average rate and cannot complete the shedding process on her own. A typical day starts with a 3-4 hour bath to help her extra skin come off. She also needs a lot of calories because the the skin production uses so much of the body’s energy. Anna then is covered in aquaphor to try to seal in any hydration that can be kept in the skin. Anna cannot sweat and she can hold in moisture either. Temperature control is also a big obstacle, because she can overheat easily. 

 
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MTEAM: What’s a typical day in Anna’s life like?
J W-R:
With her medical needs aside, Anna is a normal sassy 20-month-old. She is all over the place, getting into everything and she loves to eat! Anna really enjoys going outside to play and she thinks dancing is the best. Anna thinks accessories are amazing and insists on a headband every day and often sunglasses or jewelry. Basically, she is the coolest human that has ever existed. 

 
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MTEAM: What have been some of your biggest challenges and the best rewards along your journey with Anna so far? 
J W-R:
My biggest challenges came first: getting her out of critical condition when she was born and then the time when I first came home with her from the hospital. I struggled to understand why this had happened to me and how I was supposed to cope. I felt like it was all my fault for wanting a girl so badly. My biggest rewards are to long to list, but Anna herself is at the top of the list. The joy she gives me every day is irreplaceable, and I think often how I almost didn’t have her. Second would be my ability to help others in the Ichthyosis community. Either with acceptance or supplies, the list never ends and it’s truly a passion.

 
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MTEAM: What advice would you offer to other parents who are just finding out about a Harlequin Ichthyosis diagnosis?
J W-R:
I have been lucky enough to speak with a few new moms already either Harlequin or other Ichthyosis types. I always get them in touch with FIRST (the Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types). After, I just tell them to take one day at a time and soon enough it will be your new normal. 

 
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MTEAM: How would you like to hear other parents respond if their own children notice and ask questions about Anna’s physical differences?
J W-R:
I just don’t think it helps to quiet your kids and rush them away. Teach them to treat people like humans first of all and then, once a relationship is established, ask respectfully the questions you might have. I would rather a child come up and ask nicely because usually once they understand, then they go about their life like nothing happened. 

 
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MTEAM: What key changes would make this a more inclusive world for children with Harlequin Ichthyosis?
J W-R:
The biggest change I would make is to not make everything so taboo. I want to change the way the world looks at rare and, instead of negative, I want to see a positive spin put on being different. It’s not only okay to be different, it’s also wonderful and beautiful. 

 
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MTEAM: Share a memory of one of the times you’ve been especially proud of Anna.
J W-R:
I’m proud of Anna when she is very outgoing. I love when she says hi to strangers and waves and blows kisses. I think if she can hold onto that level of confidence, then she will be just fine.

 
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MTEAM: What’s one thing you’d like the world to know about Anna or Harlequin Ichthyosis or medically complex or fragile children generally?
J W-R:
I would like the world to know that behind the child that looks different, there is a human being. They hurt just like you hurt and they want acceptance just like anyone does. Sometimes it’s okay to not get an answer to every question you have and just to treat people how you would want to be treated. 

 
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CAN YOU HELP US MAKE THIS WORLD A MORE INCLUSIVE PLACE?

Join The MTeam for 2020

Best Buddies Challenge 2020, here we come! 

It’s our 5th season together as The MTeam, and it will be a standout year for us. Sign up today and join us while we have an entire 12 months ahead to reach our fundraising goals. 

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If you cycled, ran or walked with us in Hyannis Port earlier this month, you can remember the high of crossing the finish line. You can remember the cheering, meeting some of the buddies, the endorphins that flood your body, the medal around your neck that symbolizes the completion of your goals, the feeling that we’ve accomplished something amazing together. And, of course, the MTeam spirit. We welcome you all back for a repeat experience!

If you’re new to this, then you have a lot to look forward to when you become part of the MTeam community. We’re always here to answer questions if you’re still considering it, so just send us an email or reach out on social media. You can read more about the team on our blog and about page.

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What happens when you join? 

  • You’ll receive a welcome pack from our team captain. It’s packed full of tips and resources that will help you meet your fundraising and training goals.

  • You’ll be invited to join the MTeam’s private Facebook community where team members can mingle, ask questions, get to know each other and share their experiences.

  • You’ll receive regular newsletters and communications from the team leaders and find daily updates on our social media, so you won’t feel like you’ve signed up for something and have been abandoned!

  • You’ll be invited to participate in various fundraising events we hold throughout the year, from spin-a-thons to our annual “sequins & fedoras”-themed spring gala casino night in our Boston headquarters.

  • You’ll receive the new, customized MTeam kit that we design differently each year (our 2019 kit won Best Design & Concept, so this is definitely something to look forward to!).

  • You’ll be able to meet Meredith and her family. Mer is the “M” in our MTeam and our Chief Motivating Officer who keeps us all going with her beautiful smiles.

  • You’ll be able to be involved in our efforts to advocate for inclusion for Mer and others who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Last year we were able to donate some amazing technology to Mer’s school that is helping her and her classmates who were previously unable to communicate to do so through their eye movements. Life- changing stuff!

  • You’ll become part of a caring and supportive community.  

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There’s so much negativity in our world today, so make a decision to do something positive with us this year. Join us as we support the work of Best Buddies International and make a real impact for people who need love, support, friendship, job opportunities and the resources that will help them advocate for themselves and others. 

Are you in?  

10 Minutes With: Jenna Gines

Meet Jenna, a huge advocate for people with disabilities and mom to three sweet kids: Lincoln, Jackson and Kennedy. Below, she shares Jackson’s story of life with an undiagnosed, rare genetic disorder and her continuous fight for inclusion. Read on to find our more about what Jackson loves most, how he bonds with his siblings and the amazing progress he’s been working hard to make over the past year.

 
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MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
JENNA GINES:
Hello! My name is Jenna Gines. I was born and raised in Utah. I've also lived in Alabama, Mississippi, California, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. I have three beautiful children, ages 4, 3, 1 and a puppy named Teddy. Yes, it is a circus. Yes, I am right in the thick of motherhood and I love it. Everything in my home has a place, I love cleaning and organizing, change and exploring new places. I love empowering women through life, motherhood and life with a diagnosis. I'm a huge advocate for people with disabilities and love the light they bring to this world.

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MTEAM: Your son Jackson was born with a rare undiagnosed genetic disorder. Can you explain a bit about how this manifests itself in his life? How are his needs different from his siblings’?
JG:
My second son Jackson, who is 3-years-old, was a surprise from the very beginning. It didn't take us long to get excited to have two boys, 17 months apart. He was a beautiful, healthy baby. I remember telling my husband, there is something about this boy, I could feel it. A few of our family members started noticing that his eyes would shake a little when you would rock him. I hadn't really noticed it, but said that I would mention it to his pediatrician. His doctor said, "It looks like he has Nystagmus; do you notice anything else about him?" I thought, now that you say that, he's not sitting or rolling very much. That started the entire process... We met with a neurologist who suggested we start with blood work and an MRI and we went to see the eye doctor. We received a diagnosis in October 2016. Since that day, we have worked with a genetics doctor who can't find the gene or rare genetic disorder. So we don't know what Jackson "has" or why his body works differently than ours.

MTEAM: Tell us a bit more about Jackson!
JG:
Jackson has glasses to help him see clearer and keep his eyes straight. He has low muscle tone and is currently learning to walk. He army crawls around or uses his wheelchair to get around. He's also working on communication. He says a few words and uses sign language. He loves his brother and sister, dinosaurs, cars, trucks, being outside, airplanes, making new friends, reading books, music and car washes. He also goes to preschool four days a week and loves it! He brings a light and happiness with him wherever he goes. We're a little obsessed with him and think he's just the best.

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MTEAM: Tell us about your other children’s relationship with Jackson: what do they enjoy doing together? How do they bond? How has growing up with a sibling who has different needs played a role in the way your other children are growing up? 
JG:
Jackson loves his brother and his sister. He has been especially obsessed with his sister from day one. It's been so fun to watch. When she was a newborn, he would cry whenever I moved her away from him. It was so sweet and kind of funny! He LOVES her! He loves to play with toys with them and wrestle. Lincoln and Kennedy will grow up knowing that everyone is different and that we all have different abilities. They will grow up serving and helping their brother. I love seeing them all play, interact and the love they have for each other. I know Jackson was our surprise on purpose and he's in the middle of them for a reason! I LOVE that they're all so close in age and will experience everything in this life together.

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MTEAM: What have been some of your biggest challenges and the best rewards along your journey with Jackson so far?
JG:
Some of the biggest challenges with Jackson have been communication and inclusion. I know it's so frustrating for him when he can't move like he wants and especially say what he wants. He understands everything we say, as much as any 3-year-old, but it's getting it out that is the difference for him. Also, not living in an accessible world is a challenge. You don't realize until you use a wheelchair or you have a child that uses a wheelchair. The world has come so far, and I feel like everyone is truly trying, but there are still so many ways to improve. Taking him to a park is a challenge, even "accessible" parks. A lot of the time there is nothing he can do. Having a ramp or making it wheelchair accessible, isn't good enough. We have to be creative to include him and I try so hard every single day to include him in our everyday and for every holiday, doesn't matter what it is, we find a way to include Jackson always.

MTEAM: What advice would you offer to other parents who have a child who has a different needs diagnosis?
JG:
One of my life's missions is to empower momma's who receive a diagnosis for their baby or child. I don't want them to be sad and constantly living in a state of wishing their child wasn't this way. There is such power in accepting this new life! I want them to know it's going to be okay. That their baby is still their baby and they will still do amazing, incredible things. It's just a new, different life. It's okay to mourn the baby you thought you had and mourn the life you thought you had. And then accept this one! Because it's oh so good. You will meet people you never would have met and you will learn things you never would have learned. 

MTEAM: How would you like to hear other parents respond if their own children notice and ask questions about Jackson’s physical differences?
JG:
I love when children notice Jackson’s glasses or his wheelchair and ask about it. It's okay to notice the differences and it's okay to talk about it. Please don't hush your child; instead talk about what is different, talk about what is the same, and encourage them to make a new friend.

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MTEAM: What key changes would make this a more inclusive world for medically complex children?
JG:
For me, inclusion is huge! Including Jackson in everything makes the difference for me. My heart breaks when he can't play on the playground, not because of his disability, but because of the way the playground was made and designed. My heart just about bursts when we go to an all abilities playground and he can play just like all the other kids or when we find a way to include him, no matter what it is. All parks, children’s museums, etc, should be made and designed for ALL abilities. This means having activities that a child who uses a wheelchair can do and play with, having ramps close to the stairs, not down the street. When all abilities are remembered and accounted for, that makes a difference! 

MTEAM: Share a memory of one of the times you’ve been especially proud of Jackson.
JG:
Just this past year Jackson has come so far! My husband was laying by him and saw Jackson cover his eyes and thought, is he playing peek-a-boo? My husband started saying, where's Jackson? And he started playing and having so much fun! Since then he sings interactive songs, does pound it and high-fives. You can ask him what a dinosaur says. He's sitting so much taller, pulling himself up on lower furniture and making so much progress. I'm so proud of him for constantly trying, working hard, for being happy no matter what life throws at him and for not giving up. He tries and he tries and he tries. I think he teaches us more than we teach him.

Can you help us make this world a more inclusive place by supporting our work?

How to Make the Most of the Best Buddies Challenge

MTeamers: In just three days, we’ll gather together—sporting our amazing new jerseys with Mer’s painting on them—for the Best Buddies Challenge Hyannis Port!

Some of us will be tacking the 100, 50 or 20 mile ride with 1,500 other cyclists, including some well-known faces like Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Guy Fieri, George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde, among others. The rest of us will be running or walking a 5k at Craigville Beach, led by Olympic legend Carl Lewis. 

 
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All of us will celebrating the hard work we’ve put into fundraising and training this year, before and  after the race. Best Buddies prides itself on making the Best Buddies Challenge a five-star experience, so enjoying yourself won’t be difficult, but here are a few tips that will help you make the most of the day: 

1. GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP. The night before, make a point of going to bed early so you’re fully refreshed to put in your best effort at the Challenge. Prepare everything you’ll need before you go to bed so you don’t have to worry about anything besides getting yourself ready in the morning. 

2. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU EAT. Fuel your body before the ride/run! You’ll need it. Oatmeal, yogurt and fruit make good breakfast choices. You can power up with protein, pack some energy bars and nutritious bites for the road. Food and snacks will be available during the day, so take advantage of that and keep your energy levels up. Be sure to hydrate with water before the run/ride, during, and after as well. Later, give yourself a break and just enjoy the delicious food and drinks while we celebrate!

List break - Take a minute to remember last year’s Best Buddies Challenge with this video!

Feeling pumped up and ready for Saturday now? We are too! Okay, back to the list…

3. PACE YOURSELF AND DON’T GIVE UP. Especially if you’re doing a century ride for the first time or haven’t trained quite as much as you would have liked, pay attention to your body and make sure you’re reserving your energy to get through the full ride, or run. Reflecting on last year’s event, MTeamer  David Parada said, “The last two miles by far were the hardest miles I have ever ridden. I didn’t think I was even going to make it to the finish line. But, turning that corner and seeing all the faces of friends and families cheering and supporting everyone was overwhelming. I was elated. The hug I received from the buddy who gave me the finisher’s medal was a moment I’ll never forget.”

4. ENJOY THE FULL EVENT. We come to cycle and run, but we also come to celebrate! Enjoy a bit of pampering with hot showers and massages while you cool down. Join us for a post-race lunch and then more food at the Best Buddies lobster clambake for dinner. If you come with family, check out the new Family Fun Festival with games and activities. There will be an open bar and a private beachside concert by Flo Rida too, so stick around until the end if you can!

5. MEET OTHER MTEAMERS. It’s not often that the full MTeam is able to get together, and when we do it can be a pretty powerful experience. If this is your first time, you’ll find yourself welcomed with open arms. And if you’re a returning member, you know you’ll find the same. Mingle, share stories and have fun together. This is an amazing community we want to continue to strengthen and build. 

 
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6. MEET MEREDITH. For those of you who don’t know Mer personally yet, definitely seek her out and take the opportunity meet the “M” in our MTeam. Our Chief Motivating Officer will be doing the 5k with her parents and will be there at the after party as well, so you’ll have opportunities to get to know her throughout the day. You’ll quickly see why “Miles for Smiles” became our motto!

7. MEET THE BUDDIES. More than 40 Best Buddies program participants attend the event. Meet them, hear their stories, thank them for volunteering at the event and make some new friends. You may even spot a familiar face or two from our blog interviews if you’ve been reading along. “Being treated to the smiles of the young people we were helping throughout the route of the cycle ride” was what MTeamers Steve and Linda Lowy shared as one of the most powerful memories of last year’s event.

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8. SIGN UP FOR 2020. Hitting the finish line on a high and feeling the impact of what you’ve achieved this year? You won’t be the only one! If that’s a feeling you want to repeat, then consider joining us again for 2020. We’ll be signing people up on the day, so you can jump straight into the fundraising and have a full year ahead to meet those fundraising goals. “I signed up for 2019 before I left the party!!,” MTeamer Joe Whalen said after the 2018 Challenge. “The atmosphere was great. Everyone I came in contact with was in such a positive and happy mood, even after miles on the road. It was very uplifting to ride with so many like-minded people. From the people cheering us on the side of the road, to the support staff, and being greeted at the finish line by many of the buddies, it was all just amazing.”

9. TAKE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS. While you’re at the event, make sure to take plenty of photos and videos that you can share with all of the people who generously donated to your campaign and that you can also use for your 2020 fundraising efforts.

Above all, have fun, make memories, and be proud of what we’ve accomplished!

After the event, be sure to stay in touch. Join us again for 2020 and us on social media @themteamcares!

Entrepreneur Stories: Catching Up With Collettey's Cookies

We interviewed Collette from Collettey’s Cookies last summer to talk about her business, how she’s helping and employing other people with disabilities and how she’s become a successful entrepreneur without letting Down Syndrome get in her way. She’s achieved way more since our chat last summer than many people do in a lifetime, so we thought we’d better catch up again! Read on and be inspired!

 
Interview with Collettey's Cookies.
 

MTEAM: What have you been up to with Collettey's Cookies since we spoke last summer?
COLLETTE:
I launched a new cookie (Oatmeal Raisin). I’m getting ready to launch another flavor next week (Peanut Butter). I have hired three people. I’ve started my 501c3 nonprofit educating and empowering programs. I have taught three entrepreneur classes. I’ve spoken (by skype) to Dubai, Slovakia, Philippines, Germany and New Zealand. I’ve spoken at four schools to students about empowerment and bullying. I did a commercial for Frito-lays potato chips (my smile will be on the bag July-Sept and I’m donating all money to Operation Smile). I did a short commercial on YouTube influencing abilities. I can't remember everything but that is what I can come up with.

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MTEAM: We're excited about your "Ingredients for Success" workshop! What will it involve?
COLLETTE:
How to become an entrepreneur! I will talk about how I never thought about it, but had a hobby I loved so much that could make me money. Then I’ll talk about every step I took while getting started.

 
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MTEAM: Why is running this important to you and for disability inclusion in employment generally?
COLLETTE:
It is so important to me. People are listening and interested in my story, so I feel I should use my story to help others and improve the lives of other people with disabilities struggling like I did. It is very hard and hurtful to have doors close in your face or not have the same opportunities as you brother or sister just because people don't give you them.

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MTEAM: What's next for you this year?
COLLETTE:
Publish my first book (a series of five) for families and children ages 5-7. Write my 2nd book for ages 9-11. Then 12-15, 16-18, 19-23, to now. I am also working really hard to try to talk with Ben and Jerrys to make an ice cream with my cookies, lower the unemployment rate, grow my cookie company, teach more classes to help others, and finish raising money for my documentary to be shown in Washington DC which will ask for a tax incentive for companies that hire people with disabilities. And create more jobs for people!

 
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MTEAM: Share a bit about your experience showing Meredith and her family around Collettey's Cookies kitchen!
COLLETTE:
I just loved sharing my life and my company with her and seeing her so happy and smiling. It made me feel so good to know I can make someone else happy and to be a part of my team and my company. I just love her and her parents. It means so much to me to help others. 

Find Collette on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Will you help us make the world a more inclusive place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?

MTeam 2019 Jersey Reveal for the Best Buddies Challenge

It’s time for the MTeam’s Best Buddies Challenge 2019 jersey reveal!

We’ve been so excited to share the story behind a very special design this year.

 
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You may remember that we donated a piece of technology called the Tobii PCEye Plus to the Bi-County Collaborative (BICO) program at King Phillip Middle in Norfolk, MA, where Meredith attends school. Meredith is the “M” in our MTeam, the heart of what we do and our Chief Motivating Officer.

Like 10-year-old Mer who is non-verbal, other students who attend the school have disabilities that make traditional modes of communication impossible. Eye movements are often the only movements that individuals with severe and profound disabilities can control voluntarily. 

“Everybody deserves to be heard, and this revolutionary technology will provide a silent population the ability to communicate,” Mer’s dad Greg Lewis said.  

Watch the video from launch day here:

 
 

This system truly is giving many of the students there the chance to communicate effectively for the first time ever, Mer included. It is innovative technology and the world’s first device that combines advanced eye tracking, switch and infrared control with speech recognition.

What does that mean practically? 

“It is apparent connections are being made and pathways are developing,” Greg said. “Meredith’s vision and focus is so much better too. She actually greets us with her eyes when we see her. It's consistent.”

Mer is now able to ask for a glass of water when she is thirsty. 

She has been able make other requests at school as well, recently asking to watch a cooking show. “This was especially notable because she had a major appetite that day,” Greg said.

And…she was able to use her eye movements to express her creativity and to paint the picture below:

 
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We’re so thrilled for her as she continues to open new doors, gain confidence and hone her abilities. MTeam captain John Christian had an incredible idea for our jersey design this year: Mer’s wonderful artwork curves around the bottom half, vibrant proof of this newly life-changing ability to express her imagination freely. 

This is our jersey design for 2019:

 
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By incorporating Mer’s painting into our gear, we are celebrating her many accomplishments since we began the MTeam. We’re proud of how far she has come! Mer was born with FOXG1 Syndrome, a rare neuro-developmental disorder that impacts brain development and function. Those colors and patterns in her artwork are hers alone, and something she has never been able to share before. We hope that when others see the painting, it will spark curiosity and we’ll be able to talk with them about Mer’s story and why we do what we do. 

John started the MTeam with just six people, to help make this world a more inclusive place for Mer and others with intellectual and developmental disabilities around the world. It has grown to nearly 60 members in just a few years. 

 
MTeam Jerseys 2019
 

This year we’re aiming to raise $250,000 for Best Buddies International. We need your help. We are still short of our goal by quite a lot. Your generous donations will allow us make a real impact. Please consider contributing to the amazing work this team is doing (donation link below). We appreciate it and there’s a huge community out there who will as well! 

Mer’s dad Greg who is, of course, one of the original MTeamers, said, “The MTeam, BICO and Best Buddies are truly changing lives. We are so fortunate to be surrounded by such love and support. Over the course of this academic year, Meredith has made dramatic advancements in visual processing and communication. It has been a joy to watch our daughter develop so consistently and we look forward to her continued growth.”

Please support our work with a donation if you can,
and help us share this post and news with your networks too:

Top Training Tips for the Best Buddies Challenge

It’s crunch time for Best Buddies Challenge training! 

Whether you’re running the 5k or taking on the 100 mile bike ride of a lifetime, there’s just a few weeks left to prepare yourself the best you can. 

 
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Below, we’ll share a few of our best tips:

1.) KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT. You should have enough experience using your gear before the big day to have confidence that everything is well-fitted and comfortable: your bike, sneakers, any protective gear and the clothing you’ll wear for the ride or run. Try our sponsors Apex Velo for advice on gear and a professional bike fitting. 

 
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2.) RIDE, RIDE, RIDE / RUN, RUN, RUN. There’s no substitute for putting your feet to the pedals or sidewalk and practicing as much as possible. Make sure you’re using these last three weeks to push yourself to your goal so you know you’ll achieve the cycling mileage or full 5k on the day. Get out there as much as possible. No excuses! If you live close enough to work, make your commute to and/or from the office (depending on facilities available) part of your training routine. 

 
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3.) SET ATTAINABLE GOALS. If you’ve rarely cycled more than 10 miles and haven’t had the time to train as much as you know you would have needed, don’t try to tackle 100 miles. Set yourself smaller goals that you know are just beyond what you’d normally run or cycle, but within reach so you don’t become frustrated or disheartened. When you meet new milestones in distance, speed or duration, you’ll be encouraged to set them slightly higher the next time. 

 
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4.) RUN OR RIDE WITH SOMEONE MORE EXPERIENCED. Pair up with another MTeamer, friend or coach to run or ride alongside you when you train. When you give someone more experienced the lead, you’ll gain competence and confidence. That person can also pass along their own insight and valuable advice. And there’s safety in numbers. (Our private MTeam Facebook group is a great place to connect with other runners and riders - have you joined?)

 
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5.) USE A FITNESS APP OR ACCESSORY. Try Garmin, WahooWe or MapMyRide as motivation to keep going. And our favorite, STRAVA (Find the MTeam club here). There are many other options out there too, so do some research and decide what would work best for you. 

 
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6.) MIX UP YOUR ROUTE. If you run or ride the same route every day, it’s hard to stay focused and interested. We all have smart phones with maps these days, so it’s hard to get lost, and Strava and other apps can show you some of the popular routes in your local area. 

 
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7.) NOTE THE WEATHER AND TIME. Depending on the season, Mother Nature can throw some roadblocks into your training plans. If it’s a hot summer day, consider taking to the road as the sun is rising or just before it sets when the weather is cooler. In the winter, make sure the roads are safe and not slippery. Wear layers. Or simply take it to the gym to avoid taking unnecessary chances. 

 
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8.) BUILD IN REST DAYS. As important as it is to be on the move, make sure you’re also giving your body plenty of time to rest and recuperate in between intense training days. It will help you avoid injury and give yourself a much needed mental break as well so you don’t burn out. 

 
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9.) REMEMBER YOUR “WHY”. When you’re training or participating in the Best Buddies Challenge on the day and your energy is starting to flag, take a minute to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. That physical exertion is often boosted by a mental bust of motivation. Have a cycling/running buddy to remind you and, if possible, friends or family waiting at the finish line or along the route to cheer you on. 

 
Top 10 Training Tips for the Best Buddies Challenge
 

10.) STAY HYDRATED AND NOURISHED ALONG THE WAY. Your muscles need fuel to work their best and nutrition and water are crucial, especially when you’re challenging yourself with one of the longer rides. It’s best to eat and drink before overwhelming hunger or thirst hits. If you’re cycling 100 miles, there will be five rest stops along the course. 

 
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And don’t forget to have fun! There’s a carnival like atmosphere on the day of the event and there’s power in numbers, so you’ll likely feel pretty pumped up to tackle whatever challenge you set for yourself. Meet the Buddies, relax with a message, enjoy the lobster and dance the night away celebrating everything our hard work will have achieved. 

Meet the MTeam: Catherine Colon

Meet Catherine Colon, another one of our team members who travels all the way from her home in London to participate in the Best Buddies Challenge with us each year. She also comes to Boston to take on the important role of Blackjack dealer for our annual casino night fundraising gala.

Below, Catherine talks about her past experiences at the Best Buddies Challenge, shares the story of how she “beat” an Olympic gold medalist in the 2017 5k run and recaps a favorite memory from her time with the MTeam so far.

 
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MTEAM: When and why did you decide to join the MTeam?
CATHERINE COLON:
I joined in 2017, inspired by the MTeam after they completed their first year; they were doing so much good and I wanted to be part of it!

 
Meet the MTeam - Catherine Colon
 

MTEAM:Why is the MTeam and the Best Buddies mission important to you?
CC:
The MTeam is particularly inspirational due to Meredith, our Chief Motivating Officer – her smile will motivate a snail to run fast! The overall mission of Best Buddies is also so important in working to end to isolation for those with IDD.

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MTEAM: What’s one thing you’ve learned from being part of the MTeam community?
CC:
It feels amazing to give back.  What’s also great about the Best Buddies Challenge, our main event, is that you can see in the smiles of the Buddies how much what you are doing makes a difference.

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MTEAM: What makes the MTeam special? What would inspire people to join you?
CC:
It is probably the most fun team around! We throw a great after party and nothing tops our casino nights!

 
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MTEAM: Did you walk, run or ride in the 2018 Best Buddies Challenge? What about 2019? Describe the atmosphere of the event for us!
CC:
I run the 5K. It was particularly fun the first year when I ran against (and beat) 9x Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis (okay, he was walking with the Buddies, but check the times…)! The weather is almost always nice that time of year and everyone is so happy and upbeat. There is almost a carnival atmosphere. 

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MTEAM: Tell us about your training regime and how you prepare yourself for the physical challenge.
CC:
I love to work out everyday, but don’t specifically train for the event. I mix up my days with running, using my rowing machine, and YouTube videos for HIIT and barre workouts. I need to work on more stretching….

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MTEAM: Mentally, what helps you reach the finish line and keep pushing yourself toward your goals?
CC:
I like to move fast in all parts of life! 

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MTEAM: How did you feel when you crossed the finish line last year?
CC:
Fantastic! It is always wonderful when you’re done and the serotonin is flowing. I like to dance near the finish line waiting for everyone one else to come in! 

Meet the MTeam - Catherine Colon.jpg

MTEAM: What’s your best piece of advice for MTeam newbies and one piece of advice for returning MTeamers?
CC:
It’s probably a good idea to do some training (a lot of training if you are doing the 100 mile bike ride!) and get a good night’s sleep. 

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MTEAM: Share an MTeam memory that has been the most powerful and inspiring for you so far.
CC:
I loved Rick Springfield performing last year at the clam bake after the run. When he brought Buddies up on the stage and they were dancing and singing with him with such joy, it was just a perfect way to celebrate!

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Help us make an impact for the community of 200 million people around the world with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

MTeam Fundraising: Where Does the Money Go?

We’re set ourselves a very lofty fundraising goal for the Best Buddies Challenge this year: $250,000.

The funds support the mission of Best Buddies International, which is “the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).”  

But what does that mean in practice? What is that money actually used for? And how much of it goes directly toward helping the community Best Buddies serves?

Let’s take a closer look…

Where the Money Goes: A Breakdown

Charity Navigator scores Best Buddies highly when it comes to financial transparency and accountability, saying, “Best Buddies International outperforms the majority of nonprofits in America with respect to fiscal responsibility”.

In fact, 83% of the money they raise goes directly into their programs and services. Just 5% goes to administrative expenses and the remaining 12% covers fundraising expenses.

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Where the Money Goes: Programs

The community Best Buddies serves includes, but is not limited to, people with Down Syndrome, Autism, Fragile X, Williams Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities.

There are four main pillars in the organization’s work. Each tackles a different area where the IDD community struggles with inclusion:

  1. ONE TO ONE FRIENDSHIPS. People with IDD can often feel excluded or isolated, even if they are attending ordinary schools or living a relatively “normal” day-to-day life. This program aims to shift that culture. It starts as early as middle school where kids with IDD and kids without are matched up as buddies. The friendships that blossom help with self-confidence and self-esteem. The meaningful connections that are created are often life-long and, like any friends, the pair share their interests, experiences and activities. There are programs for high school and college students as well as adults and they’ve even launched an e-buddies program for online friendships.

  2. INTEGRATED EMPLOYMENT. Diversity in the workplace is so important. Individuals with IDD are very often more than qualified to work and have abilities that can be incredibly beneficial to an organization that hires them. Unfortunately, 81% of adults with developmental disabilities do not have a paid job in the community. Best Buddies knows this, and their jobs program helps to bridge the gap. They match individuals who are both skilled and qualified with businesses who are looking for employees who will be enthusiastic and dedicated to their work. They create partnerships with employers, assist with the hiring process and provide ongoing support to both parties. This gives people with IDD an opportunity to earn an income, pay taxes and independently support themselves.

  3. LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT. Best Buddies helps people with IDD build their confidence, self-esteem and important career skills through leadership coaching. Their ambassadors are given both group and private training as well as practice with speech writing and public and conversational speaking. They are taught how to advocate for themselves, their peers and Best Buddies in their communities, workplaces and government. There’s also a promoters program which empowers young people to become advocates for people with IDD, to open new Best Buddies Chapters in schools and organize special inclusive events that promote awareness of the disability rights movement.

  4. INCLUSIVE LIVING. This is the newest pillar in Best Buddies’ work, which supports community, independence, and skills development. It encourages people with and without IDD to live together in vibrant communities that focus on supporting all of the residents in accomplishing their life goals. It gives people with IDD the opportunity to live in a dynamic environment where they can learn, grow and thrive. Residents will share meals, participate in cultural events and holiday parties together and have access to fitness classes, sports and social activities. It encourages independence, friendships and opportunities for personal growth. The Best Buddies Living Residence is based in Los Angeles, CA and will be opening soon for residents.

 
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Meet some Best Buddies Ambassadors

We’ve really enjoyed connecting with some of the Best Buddies Ambassadors in past Q&As on our blog. If you missed them and would like to read some firsthand experiences people have had with Best Buddies, take a minute to meet:

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Where the Money Goes: MTeam Initiatives

While our fundraising efforts for the Best Buddies Challenge go exclusively to Best Buddies International, The MTeam is also committed to supporting a very special member of the IDD community. Meredith Lewis is the “M” in MTeam and our Chief Motivating Officer for the Best Buddies Challenge.

Meredith was born with a rare neuro-developmental disorder called FOXG1 Syndrome, characterized by seizures, inability to control body movements, lack of speech and visual impairments. Meredith cannot walk or talk and is unable to use her body with purpose.

Recently, The MTeam was able to go beyond our fundraising efforts for Best Buddies. We spent $5,000 on a piece of technology for Meredith’s school that would revolutionize the way her and her classmates are able to communicate. The technology she now has access to, and is learning to use every day, is called a Tobii Dynavox PCEye Plus. This piece of assistive technology allows Meredith to use her eye movements to select words or images on a screen. This is life-changing.

 
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Will you help us reach our fundraising goal of $250,000 for Best Buddies International, to make a strong impact on inclusion for the IDD community this year?

Candyce CarragherComment
10 Minutes with: Angie Wingerden

Meet Angie, mom to Eila and twin brothers Jack and Willem. Inspired to contribute her skills toward creating a better life for Eila who was born with a rare genetic condition called FOXG1, Angie volunteers as the CFO and Head of Operations for the FOXG1 Research Foundation.

Below, Angie tells us more about her work with the Foundation, shares a few stories of life with Elia and talks about what it’s like - both the challenges and the rewards - to be a mom to a child with special needs.

 
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
 

MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
ANGIE WINGERDEN:
Hi, I am Angie, mom to Eila who is 15-years -old and has FOXG1 syndrome.  We live just outside Ottawa, Ontario, in Canada. Eila has twin brothers - Jack and Willem who are turning 11, and dad Jeremy, along with our dog Fergus and some chickens. We spend a lot of time living outdoors enjoying nature and our country setting.

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: You’re the CFO and Head of Operations for the FOXG1 Research Foundation. What led you to become involved in this organization and why is it important to you? 
AW:
Yes, I am the CFO for FOXG1 Research Foundation, a new role to me just last fall. It came about when I volunteered my time to help them plan the Science Symposium in San Diego last November. See, I am an event planner by day and I believe in sharing my skillset to give back to our FOXG1 community. No one is as passionate as a parent with a child afflicted with this syndrome, and it makes me feel good to be doing my part to help our kids. I had watched closely the impact this new foundation was having globally to fundraise and then fund research and being a passionate mom to a child with FOXG1 syndrome, I knew there was an opportunity to help.  When they asked me after the symposium to join the board, it just made sense to continue my efforts to help any way I could.

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: For those who have never heard of FOXG1, can you help us understand a bit about what it is and how it manifests itself? How has this condition touched your own life and perhaps even changed the course of it? 
AW:
No parent is ever prepared for a non-typical baby experience. Especially as a first time parent, you are learning so much as it is, as it is all new to you. You blissfully think it will be just like you see all around you, snuggles, dirty diapers, burping, play, sitting, walking, talking. Then to have a baby that cries in an inconsolable way for days on end, and to watch that baby not learn typical skills like sitting up, reaching and grabbing to play with objects, or even smiling and laughing is very hard. To spend 11 years watching them never typically develop and be poked to have blood, skin, and muscle samples taken to try to find the answer? We were grateful to have found our answer, even if it took 11 years, because now we are part of this community who share similar stories of challenges and tips to support each other! Because this is a neurological syndrome, it effects Eila's entire body system. She is non-mobile, using a wheelchair to get around; she is non verbal, we have never heard the words “I love you”; she has sleep disturbances, feeding difficulties, lots of GI issues, eye sight issues, anything that requires a message from the brain to muscle movement is difficult. I have grieved. I have celebrated. We have made big compromises in how and where we raise our family to make caring for our daughter a lifetime commitment. It is not the mom life I would have expected, but it really is rewarding and I can't imagine it any differently.

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: What is a typical day at the FOXG1 Research Foundation like for you?
AW:
Each of our roles at the foundation are volunteer, which means I balance full time work and parent life along with the duties of the foundation. It can be tricky, but luckily it can be fit in any day or time of the day as needed. I maintain bookkeeping records for the foundation, provide monthly financial reports for each board meeting, work with an accountant to produce year end financial statements and the annual report. I also assist with fundraising efforts, donor relationships and communication and assist our Canadian families with completing the patient registry.

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: Tell us a bit more about Eila and her personality! (How old is she? What does she love most? What makes her happy? What makes her uniquely Eila??)
AW:
Eila is a happy-go-lucky girl; similar to the other stories you have shared, her smile and laughter can fill a room! She has a magnetic personality that others are drawn to. She is a social butterfly and loves school. She loves to use her walking frame to travel through the halls and cafeteria and seems to especially like visiting the weight room to watch the boys and listen to their tunes blaring. Typical teen :) She loves music, all kinds.  She loves books and movies, and a good joke!

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: What’s one thing you’re proud of having accomplished through the FOXG1 Research Foundation so far? 
AW:
I'm proud to have been welcomed so warmly into this group of dedicated, powerful, resilient women, to be part of a small team leading great things happening globally for the future of our kids. It's an exciting place to be right now. Things are happening so fast for the better of our kids.

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: What have been some of your biggest challenges and the best rewards along your journey with FOXG1 so far (ether with Eila or through your work)? 
AW:
Biggest challenges have been watching my child in distress and not knowing how to help her. It is painful to not be able to understand without words what is going on in her body that can cause such discomfort and try to solve it. Every day is a reward with Eila. I have watched her brothers growing into compassionate young boys with such big hearts. I have been privileged to employ and work alongside some amazing people in our community, who dedicate their life to working with children with special needs. I have seen the community rally and support us with awareness events and fundraisers when it came to needing equipment and other items. It really does take a village, and I am thankful for ours.

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: What advice would you offer to other parents who are just finding out about a similar diagnosis? How can they advocate for their own children? What resources do they have available to them either through the FOXG1 Research Foundation or elsewhere? 
AW:
I would want other parents to know we have all lived it or are living it. The family group on Facebook is a great resource to ask questions and look for support. Our foundation has initiated a caregiver committee and a special fund to assist caregivers in need.  We have already sent caregiving packages to parents in hospital with their sick child, and started a resource file for families looking for therapy, camps, support groups, other resources in their areas. They are working on lots of great ideas for the future to lessen the burden, help caregivers, and know they are supported by our community.

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: What are some of the key changes that would make the world a more inclusive place for children born with FOXG1? 
AW:
Access to consistent, available therapy, assisted devices and equipment. These things are all very expensive. For the average family, to be able to provide them to watch their child succeed is impossible!

Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1
Angie Wingerden Q and A - FOXG1

MTEAM: If there was one thing you’d most like the world to know or understand about Eila or about FOXG1 generally, what would it be? 
AW:
Eila and children like her are trapped in a body that can't express themselves the way they would like. To remember that is key; treat them with dignity and respect, always assume competency. Like every human, they want friendship, someone to listen and love them back.

Candyce CarragherComment
25 Best Fundraising Tips for MTeamers
 
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With just over a month and a half before the Best Buddies Challenge, it is crunch time for those of us racing to meet our fundraising commitments. Whether you’ve been chipping away at your goal for almost a year now, you’ve just joined recently or you’ve been procrastinating (easy to do, we know), here are some tips to help you make the most of the remaining weeks.

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1.) START NOW. Starting your fundraising efforts as early as possible is one of the top pieces of advice from large charities

2.) LOSE YOUR INHIBITIONS ABOUT ASKING FOR MONEY. Re-frame your thinking about fundraising and you’ll find it easier to reach out and ask for money. It’s a selfless act that will benefit other people. It’s great to feel proud of what you’d doing; others will notice and feel proud to support the cause too.

3.) KNOW YOUR CAUSE. Take a few minutes to read the “About the Cause” page on the Best Buddies website and learn as much as you can before you start fundraising. Same goes for the MTeam, and the connection between the two.

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4.) MAKE A LIST. Spend a few minutes brainstorming a list of everyone you can think of who might be willing to donate. Write them down. Work through your list with personal messages or, if possible, ask in person. Make notes. If you have a positive response, don’t forget to follow up if you don’t hear from them in a few days or a week later.

5.) ASK AND ASK AGAIN. One ask for donations is easy to ignore, especially on social media. Ask again and again. Social media posts don’t reach all of your followers. One ask by email or text or in person can be forgotten. Repeat and, if you have a positive response, follow up again if needed.

6.) ASK IN PERSON. People are far more likely to donate when you ask in person and share your story. Follow up with a text or email that has your fundraising link.

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7.) SEND EMAILS. You probably have a bigger contact list than you realize. Look through your address book and send personal, individual emails to anyone you think may consider supporting your campaign.

8.) MAKE IT PERSONAL. Know your “why” and your connection to your fundraising efforts. Perhaps you know Meredith or you have a child or another connection who could benefit from the work of Best buddies. Share this story when you’re asking for donations.

9.) LINK TO YOUR FUNDRAISING PAGE EVERYWHERE. From social media profiles to your email signature to your Whatsapp profile, there are plenty of places it’s possible to share a link. Don’t miss out on the opportunity.

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10.) “THERMOMETIZE” YOUR PROGRESS. Keep your network up to date on where you are in the fundraising process with a thermometer visual. Tell them how close you are to reaching your goal and how much help you still need from them. Canva or a screenshot of your fundraising page work well for this.

11.) CONSIDER PAYDAY. Whether most people you know are paid weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, keep this in mind when you’re asking for donations. When it’s the end of a pay period, everyone is a bit more conscious about spending money, whereas if you catch them in the first few days after payday, they’ll be more comfortable giving to your cause.

12.) RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. Sign up a friend and you’ll both receive $100 in your campaign through our referral program. Plus, you’ll have a runner/rider buddy that you already know and can offer each other moral support as you continue fundraising.

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13.) TALK ABOUT THE MTEAM. When you’re out and about with friends or meeting new people, talk about what you’re doing and why you got involved. You may find someone interested in making a donation. If you find someone who loves to run or cycle and may want to join the team, that’s worth a $100 donation through our referral program.

14.) EXPAND YOUR NETWORK. Ask connection and donors if they know anyone who would be interested in supporting Best Buddies. They may have a personal connection to someone with a disability and be particularly inclined to donate for disability inclusion.

15.) SHARE OUR CONTENT. Follow the MTeam on social media and, if and when our social media or blog content resonates with you, share it with your own network, along with your own comments. This may be on your Facebook page or in your Instagram stories or wherever you hang out most. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube. Check out our blog too.

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16.) USE VIDEO AND STORIES. If you’re asking for donations on social media, consider making a short video. A face and voice can add a new dimension to your request for donations and videos are easier to ignore. Stories show up at the top of the news feed and you can keep coming back as they disappear 24 hours later.

17.) LEAVE DONATION BOXES. It’s well worth asking around at your local cafes, shops, religious organizations or other places that have a high amount of foot traffic to see if you can leave a donation box, decorated to tell the MTeam story.

18.) CHECK FOR MATCHING FUNDS PROGRAMS. Many employers offer matching funds programs to their employees, and Best Buddies accepts these, so check in with the people who have made a donation and see if their company has something like this that can double their impact.

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19.) ORGANIZE A BAKE SALE. If you have kids at a school or belong to a religious organization or can get your employer on board, see if you can gather fellow parents/worshippers/co-workers together to host a bake sale where the profits go into your fundraising campaign.

20.) HOST AN EVENT. Whether it’s a dinner, a movie night, a kids play date or a party, put in some extra effort and charge a small amount of “admission”, explaining to your guests that you’re hosting the event to raise a bit of money for your fundraising campaign. They will most likely be happy to go along with this.

21.) SET UP YOUR FACEBOOK BIRTHDAY CHARITY. If you’re lucky enough to have a birthday coming up, Facebook allows you to “donate” your birthday to a cause. Set it up as a personal cause rather than selecting Best Buddies so that you can manually transfer the funds to your own fundraising campaign rather than them going directly to Best Buddies.

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22.) SUGGEST A GIVING EXCHANGE. If consumerism gets you down over the holiday season, suggest exchanging donations with a friend instead of physical presents this year. You could do the same for your birthday.

23.) SEND HANDWRITTEN NOTES. In a time where virtual communication rules and clutter is everywhere, a handwritten note may be just what is needed to stand out, whether you’re asking for donations or saying thank you. Use a short and memorable bit.ly link that can easily be typed into a browser.

24.) CLEAR YOUR CLUTTER & DONATE IN YOUR OWN NAME. While ideally your donations will come from others, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of spring cleaning and either hosting a yard sale or popping a bunch of listings up on eBay. Donate the profits to your own campaign. Making a donation under your name can also be a great way to encourage others as it shows you’re supporting your own cause, not just asking others for help.

25.) GET INTO THE COMPETITIVE SPIRIT! It’s not a competition, but make an effort to connect with other MTeamers in our private Facebook group where we share a weekly leaderboard each Friday. A friendly spirit of competition can help push us along.

MTEAMERS: If you haven’t signed up yet, be sure to join our closed Facebook group for MTeamers where we’re encouraging all of you to share tips with one another.

Candyce CarragherComment