Meet MTeam captain John Christian. This will be his fourth year in a row completing a century ride for the Best Buddies Challenge, a year to focus on growing the MTeam community and reaching the biggest fundraising goal yet - $250,000.
Below, John talks about the evolution of the MTeam since he started it in 2016 and the importance of setting lofty goals, what it felt like to be one of the top individual fundraisers in 2018 and about the MTeam's biggest sponsor, CAPA The Global Education Network's involvement in the Best Buddies Jobs program.
MTEAM: Let’s start at the beginning: Tell us the story of how you decided to get involved with Best Buddies and start the MTeam.
JOHN CHRISTIAN: A former CAPA The Global Education Network colleague, Greg Lewis, told me about Best Buddies. Greg and Laura’s daughter, Meredith, was born with FOXG1 Syndrome. It’s a rare neuro-developmental disorder caused by a mutation of the FOXG1 gene. It impacts brain development and function. It’s severe and difficult. Meredith suffers from seizures, is unable to control body movement, and she does not speak verbally. I say verbally because she definitely communicates in other ways. She has the most amazing smile. When she smiles at me I melt. Well, not just me; others have that experience too. She inspired me to start the MTeam, named after her, of course. I saw how difficult it can be to be a family and care for a child with an intellectual or developmental disability. I wanted to find a way to help and realized that I could set up a Best Buddies Challenge team in support of Meredith and FOXG1.
So, in 2016, I asked my brother, sister-in-law and some good friends if they would participate in the Best Buddies Challenge in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. They immediately agreed and six of us began fundraising. By the end of the Challenge, we had raised $11,500. Having never done anything like this before, we were pretty proud of our result which motivated us to immediately start building our team for the following year.
MTEAM: Why is the MTeam and its mission so important to you?
JC: Giving back has always been important to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t get help along the way. Because others reached out to give me a boost, I want to do the same. I want to help people like the Lewis’. I got really excited when Greg told me about Best Buddies International and how they help people and families with IDD. I just knew this was the right path for me. Over the past three years, the MTeam has not only raised over $260,000 for Best Buddies but we’ve spread awareness about IDD and FOXG1 as well as how important inclusion is for everyone. Our MTeam community is built around awareness and inclusion.
MTEAM: What’s the most rewarding part of your role as team leader? And the biggest challenge?
JC: The most rewarding part of being the MTeam captain is having the chance to meet families and friends who have children or friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Greg and Meredith both participate in the 5k run at the Best Buddies Challenge. She has a chair and they run together. Watching the love and inspiration around her is what makes this so rewarding. The challenge is building a genuine community with all the MTeam members. Last year, we had 54 people and we really tried to make sure everybody felt a part of our work in raising money for Best Buddies in a very personal and inclusive way. Next year, we hope to have 100 people and so the challenge will really be to make sure everyone understands why it’s so important to commit to this work to build our community year after year.
MTEAM: What are your goals for the MTeam throughout the rest of 2018/early 2019?
JC: We have lofty goals but that’s who I am and what I do. Why go small? Go big! It’s so important to have goals. The MTeam’s 2019 goal is to increase the number of teammates to 100 and to raise $250,000 for Best Buddies. I believe wholeheartedly that we will reach this goal. We always do. I have to say, the goal is not just to raise money; while this is critical to real impact, we are also trying to raise awareness through storytelling and images of real people like you and me who just want to be a part of a community, who want a job, friendship, and inclusion. When I speak about the team and Best Buddies I always remind people that one of the tag lines for Best Buddies is, “I see you.” I love this because it's so important. When you see a person with an IDD, their family and friends on the street, just look up and smile. One smile can change a person's whole world. That's how important it is.
MTEAM: What makes the MTeam special? What would inspire people to join you?
JC: We have so much fun. Throughout the year, the MTeam holds events such as spinathons and our large spring gala. Helping people feels good. Words cannot describe the feelings when completing one of the Challenges, whichever one you choose. Kids and families from the Best Buddies programs are there and you see firsthand how much just showing up inspires and helps. I wish I could share those feelings with everyone. If I could, everyone would join! We are a team, we practice together, fundraise together. There is a camaraderie that has come out of the creation of this team and it’s not just the Challenge participants, it’s an entire community. Whether you follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube, or are family and friends of Challenge participants, you are a part of this community. We receive all kinds of support, not just financial. People donate their time to help train us, use their knowledge and skills to help us communicate better. I’ve met, and become friends with, so many amazing people that want to help. And the beautiful part is that this all stems from Meredith. So, you see, when you see someone with a “disability” (I don’t even know what that word means anymore), they have abilities that no one else has. They can change your life like no one else will. Humans shy away from different, but we should cherish and nurture it. It can be a gift. It’s all in your perspective.
MTEAM: Mentally, what helps you reach the finish line and keep pushing yourself toward your goals?
JC: We have so many goals and finish lines throughout the entire year and we just push to reach them all. We have a great team that works behind the scenes and we all are working towards the goals together. I have this innate sense for setting big goals and then inspiring people to reach them. I like coaching people in that sense. Having a goal that looks unattainable to others and watching us reach that goal is priceless.
MTEAM: You were one of the top individual fundraisers for the Best Buddies Challenge in 2018. How did that feel?
JC: It was an amazing feeling. I love a challenge and I’m very competitive, so a leader board like that is right up my alley. I can’t lie, it feels great. My personal fund was the third largest of the whole event. But it's not really about being at the top of the list, it's about knowing that when I reached out to my friends, family and professional community that they were in support of this amazing work that we do. Coming in number three was great, but what I really care about is that we raise enough money so that we can help over 200,000,000 people are desperate for love, life, community and purpose.
MTEAM: The MTeam’s lead sponsor is CAPA The Global Education Network, of which you are the CEO. Talk a bit about CAPA’s involvement with the Best Buddies Jobs program and what this means to you.
JC: Best Buddies is one of CAPA’s designated charities. That’s how important this is to us. Diversity and inclusion has always been an important personal value. At the base of it, CAPA’s mission is to give as many students as possible the opportunity to study abroad because we know that affects the world positively. That means, all students - those who believe they don’t have the money, students of all sexual orientations, students of all races and cultural backgrounds... No matter how a student identifies, at CAPA we want them to have this opportunity. We do what we can to ensure they can go abroad and have the most meaningful experience. Sending students to another country to live and study gives them opportunities to discover themselves and people who are not like them. This causes them to think differently about their world. They come home changed and that impacts those around them. At CAPA, we believe that this is how we make the world a better place. Best Buddies does something very similar. They give people with IDD the opportunity to learn about themselves and how to interact with people who are different than them. They aim to get people together to create friendships, community and employment opportunities. They spread awareness so that everyone has a seat at the table. The more we are around people who are different than us the more accustomed we become, the less afraid we are, the more connections we can make. This is how we make the world a better place.
MTEAM: Share the MTeam memory that has been the most powerful and inspiring for you so far.
JC: That’s easy. It was the night we had our first fundraiser. Greg, Laura and Meredith along
with Greg’s family, came to the event and told the story of Meredith’s life. Greg and
Laura shared some very special and beautiful moments about raising Meredith. I watch
the group of about 50 or so people smile, cry and laugh with them. I felt so inspired. I saw the beginning of a real community and real love. I was hooked after that. I really
want to thank them for bringing us into their lives. It has changed many of us forever.