Vail Valley Scenery: Best Buddies helps kids with developmental disabilities | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Scenery: Best Buddies helps kids with developmental disabilities

Story by Carolyn Pope
Photos courtesy of Robin Deighan
Vail Valley Scenery

It's tough being a teen. It's even tougher if you're a young person with an intellectual and developmental disability.

Best Buddies, founded in 1989 by Anthony Shriver, is an international organization that addresses kids who oftentimes have problems fitting in because of their differences. His solution? Give them a peer, a buddy, to help guide and support them through the tough years from middle school through the early 20s and beyond.

Last week, Olympian Carl Lewis, who is on the board of directors of the international nonprofit, along with his Olympian sister, Carol Lewis-Zilli, spent a day enlightening locals about the program. Lewis-Zilli, who is a three-time Olympian, is the head track coach at Eagle County Charter Academy. Battle Mountain High School is the latest location for a Best Buddies program.

The day started off with a fun run and activities at BMHS and finished up with an intimate evening with Carl Lewis, "Olympian of the Century," at the Quagliano private home in Cordillera. Vail Catering Concepts provided the food, enhanced by wine and beer from Riverwalk Wine & Spirits and Crazy Mountain Brewing Co.

The program is in all 50 states and 50 countries and provides opportunities for one-on-one friendships. The programs start in middle school and extend to high schools, colleges, to e-buddies and citizens. They provide leadership development and integrated employment with the self-advocacy support of peer buddies until the job is mastered. The programs provide much-needed socialization skills often lacking in those with an intellectual and developmental disability.

The goal of the local chapter is to get the Best Buddies program in each middle school and high school and beyond throughout the valley.

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"It's about the transformative power of friendships," Lewis said. "Friendships are made up of small things that change lives when you realize you are not above or below them, but right beside them."

Team Carl Lewis participates each year in the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge from Carmel, California, along the Pacific coastline to Hearst Castle to raise money for Best Buddies International. That's where local Jeanne Quagliano and her son Keefer got involved last year doing the 15-mile tour with a tandem bike, and they are headed back this year.

"All I knew when I returned was that we needed Best Buddies here in our valley to support buddies and their peers," Quagliano said. "It would create a whole new educated volunteer base for our other community programs in the valley in helping those with IDDs."

Best Buddies looks at the abilities in contrast to the disabilities of people, with programs that empower volunteer youth to become advocates for people with IDD by organizing and participating in specific events throughout the year that promote and bring awareness to the disability rights movement through understanding.

"I came away with his message of the power of self-will, importance of discipline, hard work, a healthy lifestyle, remember the workouts and never let anyone tell you that you can't do something," said Quagliano, in response to Lewis' stories of his Olympic years of success and defeat and the power of the mind.

"We are all proud to be a part of making it happen here with our first Best Buddies Chapter at BMHS. We want to continue to help enhance the lives of children and people with IDDs through real friendship and Leadership Programs," Quagliano said.

Carl Lewis summed it up.

"I've learned two main things from being involved with the Best Buddies organization and the buddies," he said. "First, don't ever tell a buddy that you're going to be there and not show up or don't ever be late. Because they will call you on it! And second, do something that you don't know what the outcome will be! Don't always go for easy way. Challenge yourself."

For more information, visit http://www.bestbuddies.org or call Jeanne Quagliano at 970-331-2030. There's still space available for the Hearst Castle Challenge.

Carolyn Pope has covered community service events and nonprofit activities since 2001 and co-authored "The Women of Vail." She can be reached at 970-390-9913.