Best Buddies: A Contemporary Analysis

Posted in Disability  |  Tagged

by E. Ramirez-Pineda, C. Moon, M. Shay, C. Ficca, J. Stakely, M. Nalysnyk (GU)

Since its conception in 1989, Best Buddies has grown into an internationally recognized nonprofit organization known for enriching the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities. The organization’s mission is “dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). (Best Buddies, 2022). In all of these facets, the organization has benefited people with IDD, especially with integrated employment and their recently launched inclusive living programs that allow people with an IDD who would not otherwise be able to move out independently. However, there are significant issues in the one-to-one friendship area of the organization that are not addressed because of its unchallenged overwhelmingly positive reputation and public perception. This is not to say that Best Buddies does not support people with an IDD; however, the presence of positivity does not exonerate a group from its flaws.

The major issue I am choosing to focus on is a lack of consideration and understanding from the volunteers paired with individuals as Best Buddies throughout the program. While the volunteer is affiliated with or attending whichever school or group they participate in Best Buddies through, the relationship between them and their buddy is generally great. Through the different activities and events run by Best Buddies, the two bond and grow a meaningful relationship. Sadly, in many cases, after a couple of years of building a relationship in school and through Best Buddies events, the volunteer moves on from the Best Buddies program and maintains little to no contact with their buddy. This can leave the participants with an IDD devastated as an important friend abandons them once their mandatory meetings to keep “Best Buddies Volunteer” on their resume are up. I call this the “Check a Box” volunteer, or someone who shows up at their convenience as a part of the person with IDD’s life, then separates completely.

I have observed this specifically with my second oldest brother Matt, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Matt spent six years in high school and had two best buddies there, as well as multiple others because he remained a part of Best Buddies into his early thirties. One of his buddies has been very solid, staying in touch with Matt through phone calls and visits whenever possible, even after moving across the country for work. As for the others, my family has spent many nights up with Matt as he cries over missing his “Best Buddy” who can hardly be bothered to answer a call or a text from him. Because of his ASD, he struggles significantly with change; so when a “close friend” of years cuts all ties, it is not only difficult for him to understand but it hurts.

            It is difficult to place much blame on the volunteers, as most don’t have much experience with people with IDD and don’t quite understand the gravity of the relationships that they’re building. In my experience with Best Buddies, there is little to no training or teaching for new volunteers who become Best Buddies (I received zero training). The lack of fundamental understanding allows “check the box” volunteers to proceed using individuals with an IDD as objects for activities and to feel good about themselves rather than as people who they are forming friendships with. The harm from abandonment, in the end, outweighs the positive experiences within the program. Additionally, many studies on the impact of Best Buddies currently focus on the impact and perspectives of the volunteers, which centers the conversation around these volunteers and their feelings instead of the participants with IDD (Cavender, 2022). Thus, future research needs to focus on the impact that Best Buddies has on the participants with IDD and include their voices in the shaping of the program. Additionally, some form of training for the volunteers needs to be implemented that educates them on their role and the impact they will have as part of the program. Currently, this issue of abandonment is hurting the individuals that Best Buddies was formed to help.


Best Buddies International. Best Buddies International. (2022, December 14). Retrieved May 1, 2023, from

Cavender, J. M. (2022). Best Buddies Club: A Phenomenological Study of the Non-Disabled Peer Perspective on Socially Interacting with Students with Disabilities.

West, M. D., Wehman, P. B., & Wehman, P. (2005). Competitive employment outcomes for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities: The national impact of the Best Buddies Jobs Program. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 23(1), 51-63.