A Best Buddies Story: Kellie Howard
Meet Kellie Howard, who has been involved with Best Buddies International for more than a decade! Below, she talks about why this organization is so important to her, the benefits it has brought to her own life, some of her favorite memories and the story of a lifelong friendship she formed through the program.
MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself!
KELLIE HOWARD: I’m 30-years-old and heavily involved in my Best Buddies USF Chapter. On my time off, I volunteer at a nursing home in the activities department. I’ve been there just as long as I’ve been with Best Buddies - for 12 years. I’m a people person. I’m the middle child. I love caring for others and advocating. I’m from Brandon, FL (aka Tampa, FL). My favorite color is purple. I love talking; it may be my favorite hobby. I love love food and music and my family.
MTEAM: Why it the group’s mission of inclusion close to your heart?
KH: I’ve been a part of Best Buddies for 12 long years. I enjoy it because when I was younger, believe it or not, I was shy and couldn’t really see where I’d belong. Best Buddies is a place where you can be yourself and not worry what people think about your abilities. I was pushed down, had my hair pulled, and had water poured on me for being different while going to school. Making friends wasn’t easy. But once I found Best Buddies, all that weight seemed to let up.
MTEAM: When and how did you become an ambassador for Best Buddies?
KH: I believe after I took all those training classes. At my first Best Buddies Leadership Conference (BBLC) back in 2014, I spoke at the closing ceremony. That was when more opportunities opened up. It was the “BEST” thing that has ever happened to my confidence level, for sure.
MTEAM: What are some of the coolest things you get to do as an ambassador for Best Buddies?
KH: Travel, for sure, and meet so many wonderful and amazing people. Most importantly, making long lasting friendships and networking, sharing our mission, of course.
MTEAM: What do you love most about the Best Buddies and why is their work important? How have they helped to support you personally?
KH: Oh my goodness, it has helped me so much. I’ve always been a talkative person, but never had the confidence or the leadership skills or the friendships I have now. Their work is so important because, in the media and schools, there is still much to be done with the disabilities community. Best Buddies is a great stepping stone to awareness.
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?
KH: Working with others with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hopefully someday working for Best Buddies International. Growing up, since I was considered higher functioning, I was always a caregiver to my classmates; even now within my chapter, I’m a role model to a lot of my peers.
MTEAM: How would you explain Best Buddies to someone who has never heard of the organization before?
KH: First, I would explain how long the program has been around for - 30 years! - and that we’re in 50 states and 54 countries worldwide and that I’ve been a part of the non-profit for 12 years. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. We are dedicated to establishing leadership skills and jobs and, most importantly, friendships. We help the disabilities community not to be isolated by our society. It’s a lot of fun and free to join and you make a difference in someone else’s life as well as your own. It’s a truly rewarding experience for all parties.
MTEAM: Have you met anyone through Best Buddies who really inspires you? Who and how so?
KH: I would honestly have to say my buddy Emma Donahue. We where matched in 2014. I get a new buddy every year, but she became a part of my life, much more than a buddy. She became family and a friend for life. She’s even going to be my plus one in my sister’s wedding. She has seen my highs and lows and been nothing but kind to me. She sees me for my abilities and doesn’t hold me back as a buddy. She treats me just like one of her college friends and she has even taken me to clubs and has had sleepovers with me and has come to my family functions. I think my family likes her alright too! Haha, just kidding - they love her! They even buy her Christmas gifts.
MTEAM: Do you have a favorite memory from your time with Best Buddies?
KH: Speaking at the BBLC 2014. It was only five of us speaking. I was one of the two from Florida to be picked. I had never spoken in front of so many people in my life before and the crazy thing is, I wasn’t even nervous. Another time, I was on the Young Leaders Council and even became a committed chairwomen on the International Board of Directors with Anthony K Shriver. Now, I sit on the Tampa board and Friendship Walk board.
Being able to travel is another favorite thing, since my mom doesn’t like to get out much. When Best Buddies invites me to speak somewhere, I get so excited. I tend to pack my bag early and I get to do my favorite things: talking and networking and speaking about our mission and making memories.
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?
KH: I would say it’s truly a rewarding experience and it’s a really great opportunity to build friendships and confidence. It’s a lot of fun!