Prime Time Living - Page 10 - Help Wanted: Volunteering

Prime Time Living
- Page 10
Help Wanted: Volunteering
From delivering meals to being a ‘buddy,’ opportunities abound

By Margit B. Weisgal, Contributing Writer

“Geoff is my best buddy,” Mike announces to the customers in the restaurant, referring to Geoff Lapin, the man accompanying him, yelling out the word “best.” Mike is developmentally challenged and is very hard of hearing in one ear, so he shouts – a lot. All the time. But he exudes warmth and always has a huge grin. He loves talking with everyone and wants the people around him to know how proud he is about their relationship.

If you’ve never needed social skills, or seen them demonstrated, how would you behave? We see people who are disabled everywhere we go, but we don’t always recognize it or understand it. Maybe someone crosses our path who has Down Syndrome or autism, Asperger’s or a brain injury. There’s an organization called Best Buddies that offers those with IDD – intellectual and developmental disabilities – a way to live in the world and be a contributing member of our society.

“Best Buddies International ( www.bestbuddies.org ) is a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Its programs empower the special abilities of people with IDD by helping them form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communication skills, and feel valued by society,” according to the organization.

When Lapin was paired with Mike, he became Mike’s “buddy” and helps him to understand life, aiding him to become more socially integrated by exposing him to new situations, like eating in a restaurant, and how to act around people he doesn’t know – yet. And he’ll get to know those he can.

Mike, now 57 years old, is high-functioning who, until recently, lived with his 84-year-old mother. When it became too much for her, he moved into the Village of Merici, an independent living facility that provides residential opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Its mission includes helping the residents to lead a purpose-filled life, something that gibes with Best Buddies’ mission.

“Having someone who is your friend, someone to stand up for you, is so important,” explains Vince Fiduccia, state director for the Maryland office of Best Buddies ( bestbuddies.org/maryland ).

“When the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, kids with IDD were mainstreamed, but that didn’t stop bullying. Having a friend who is your champion, who stands up for you, when you walk down the hall between classes is huge. That Best Buddy helps they feel included – not shunned or disparaged. One young man in Montgomery County was voted homecoming king at his high school because his classmates accepted him and appreciated what he taught them.”

Best Buddies has three primary programs: 1 to 1 Friendships, Jobs Program and Leadership Development. In each, those with IDD are integrated into society. Middle schools, high schools and colleges all participate in 1 to 1 friendships, where they are matched with peers.

Towson University and Johns Hopkins University students work with participants in a transition program. At the adult level, it’s more community based; individuals are matched with someone roughly the same age who lives within 10-15 miles. They look for common interests, something the two can do together twice a month for at least an hour, so the relationship is friendship based. In addition to the meetings, there is contact once a week by phone, text or email. The goal is to expose the Buddies to the circle of friends and acquaintances, and to learn how to behave with different people.

The jobs program places clients into what is often their first job. Again, matching skills with the job is important so they do their best to find positions that fit. After a skills assessment is completed, they are coached on how to go through the interview process, write a resume and speak with potential co-workers. Coaches accompany the clients to the interview and then back away.

“We are not taking advantage of one of the best workforces ever by not providing more opportunities for IDDs to have jobs,” says Fiduccia. “Corporate America needs to look at where they can place these people. One law firm hired several employees to scan documents into the computer, something perfect for them.

Anyone who has a job that is somewhat repetitive should contact Best Buddies about these job openings. One works with the Ravens, another works with firefighters.

We have people in food service, such as Wicked Sisters, a restaurant in Hampden, and at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the physical plant.”

The third program, Leadership Development, educates IDDs on how to be advocates for their own cause. They learn public speaking and advocacy, and how to have confidence and express your thoughts coherently when addressing other people who don’t understand IDD.

Lapin relishes the time he spends with Mike, cheering him on as he builds a 12-stage Lego rocket at his residence, and going out for meals. “Mike reads every poster in the restaurant as we are seated, and we’ve had people ask to be moved because he’s ‘really loud.’ But he willingly answers questions and is learning new skills every day. He now shops for his own groceries and learned to cook in a Crockpot. For Christmas, he brought me cookies he baked that were delicious.”

If you have a little time to spend with someone who will value your friendship, contact Vince Fiduccia at VinceFiduccia@bestbuddies.org or call 410-327-9812.

Meals on Wheels

In 1983, Bill Brent retired after 37 years in the military. He served in World War II, and then used the GI Bill to attend Morgan State College (now Morgan State University). From there he worked at Ft. Holabird as the sports director until it closed, then moved to Ft. Meade to do the same job. Then, one day, a friend from

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