Meet the MTeam: Candyce Carragher
Candyce Carragher has been an integral part of the MTeam since the community came into being in 2016. She has dedicated many hours and days to keeping the team organized and making our events a success. Below, she takes a step back to share the reasons why the MTeam is important to her, how it has inspired her to take small actions in her own life that help to make the world a more inclusive place, and some of the ways that you can support the work of the MTeam beyond financial donations.
MTEAM: Why is the MTeam and the Best Buddies mission important to you?
CANDYCE CARRAGHER: The reason I became so heavily involved with the MTeam and Best Buddies was because of the Lewis Family. I worked with Greg at CAPA The Global Education Network and then met his wife Laura and their daughter, Meredith. It was my first time being around a person that has severe disabilities. Meredith was born with FOXG1 and is non-verbal and non-ambulatory with involuntary body movement.
As I got to know the family a bit and had various conversations, I realized that we typically focus on the physical/biological impact of FOXG1, but most people don’t think about the impact it has on a family. I have twins that are a few years older than Meredith and I put myself and their shoes and thought how lonely and isolated it must be to not have the same interactions every parent has with their child.
The MTeam and Best Buddies are all about spreading the word that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else; they just have different abilities. I’ve made it a personal mission of mine to interact in small ways with people who are different than me. It doesn’t take much and it’s free if you don’t have money to donate to the cause, although I’d like that too. Just smile. Meredith has a killer smile.
MTEAM: What’s one thing you’ve learned from being part of the MTeam community?
CC: It reminds me how good people are in this world that can be scary and negative. The people on the MTeam come from all over the place and some never knew one another. They join for various reasons but at the base of it, everyone joins to do good.
MTEAM: What makes the MTeam special? What would inspire people to join you?
CC: Oh my goodness, is this a fun group. I love the people of the MTeam and what it stands for – inclusion. If you don’t join for any other reason, the fun and inclusion would be enough. Lots of events and gatherings gives me the chance to be with like-minded people. And race day is amazing. It’s inspiring.
MTEAM: Tell us more about race day; what’s the atmosphere like at a Best Buddies Challenge event?
CC: Extremely well organized, transportation to start lines and back to Boston from the Cape, showers and massage at the finish line, tons of food and drink. Great to get to meet Best Buddies participants and their families, the reason we are doing what we do. And the after party is through the roof! I had the chance to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts two years ago and Rick Springfield last year. The entire team wears the same t-shirts (provided by the team) so you can see us everywhere. When we are together, all 50 or more of us, we are a sea of red. It’s cool when we are all on the dance floor. It’s a blast.
MTEAM: Do you have to be an avid runner or cyclist to join the MTeam?
CC: You definitely do not need to be an avid anything! Much of the team is made up of walkers; some people run and walk a bit over the course of the 5k. There are young kids who ride, walk and run. Of course there are serious athletes involved, but it’s an open, friendly family event. The best part is meeting the people that are part of the Best Buddies programs along with their families. Meredith and her mom and dad run it each year. It’s what makes it all worthwhile. Personally, I used it as a training challenge for myself. It got me back to the gym and I’ve been going faithfully for almost two years now. I’m still not a runner or rider, but I feel so much better for it.
MTEAM: What’s your top one piece of advice for any MTeam newbies?
CC: Become involved. Send John and the rest of the team an email. One of the goals of the MTeam is to get everyone involved all year long, not only on race day or at a few events. Plan a meet up. Find out which team members live in your area and plan a workout, a run or a ride. Other teammates already do this and would love another person to join them. Have your very own fundraising party at your home. Keep it simple and provide some food and drink and charge a small entry fee that will go towards your personal fundraising goal. So many fun ideas.
MTEAM: What’s your best piece of advice this year for MTeamers who are returning for another round?
CC: Share your knowledge with new members. Reach out and ask them to go for a run or ride. Keep inspiring people. I try to spread the word that people who do not have the same abilities than me are just different; they are still people who want friendship, love and community, just like me.
MTEAM: Share an MTeam memory that has been the most powerful and inspiring for you so far.
CC: I learned from Laura, Greg and Meredith that people avoid them when they are out. They understand why, and so do I. People feel awkward and uncomfortable, they don’t know what to say, so they avoid them.
I acknowledged and accepted that I am guilty of this too. So now I make an effort say hi or smile at someone rather than avoiding. One day, I was in line at Walmart with my daughter. There was a mom behind me with her grown son in a stroller type wheelchair. I was nervous, but I turned around and said hello. He was trying to move his arms and his mom said, as only a mom would know, that he was saying hi to me. So I bent down and chatted with him for a second. I said hi. I asked him how he was. I touched his hand. I introduced my daughter. That mom cried because I acknowledge her child. I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.
MTEAM: How can you support the MTeam if you don't have the means to donate and aren't ready to actually join the team?
CC: There are tons of ways to support the team if you don’t have the means to do it financially! I’ve gotten creative over the past couple of years. The easiest way is to like and follow MTeam pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and then share our posts. The MTeam has a fantastic social media presence with really great blog posts and articles on lots of topics ranging from raising children to running to riding and health tips in between. Next, ask your own social media network to like and follow us. This might seem small and insignificant, but the more people who share this information, the more people we reach. Social media is a powerful tool and if nothing else, it normalizes people who have different abilities than me.
A second way is to get creative with fundraising. The holidays are here! Ask folks to donate to the cause. Create an email or share the donation link on your own social media. If you are having a holiday party, ask for $5.00 donations (or more!), leave a big jar out with a sign/flyer, pass the hat. Kids love to help. Have them create a poster encouraging donations. Use pictures of Meredith so people can see who they are helping. Share your own story about why this has impacted you and created a desire to help. There are so many ways to get involved!
MTEAM: Have you seen the MTeam make a direct impact on Meredith's life specifically?
CC: Oh my goodness, YES! In general, it’s brought awareness to so many people and through that, more acceptance of people that are different and therefore less loneliness for Meredith and her parents, Greg and Laura.
Specifically, there was an amazing donation the MTeam just made to Meredith’s school at the end of November. This piece of technology that translates eye movements into speech will allow her and the other kids who are non-verbal to communicate their wants and needs for the very first time. I mean seriously, can you imagine having to guess each day what your child wants? Now for the first time, they can actually express it themselves. That boggles my mind. It’s just an amazing gift.