This week we are proud to highlight Ricky Townsend’s involvement with Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Ricky sat down with us to share his experiences and what Best Buddies has come to mean to him over the past fifteen years.

Talk to us about Best Buddies and its mission.

Studies show that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) – like Down’s syndrome – are much more prone to loneliness and social isolation than the rest of the population. In many cases, their inner and outer circles can primarily consist of their immediate family and social workers. What’s missing? Peer-to-peer relationships. Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-on-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with IDD. Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver (nephew of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy) on his Georgetown campus, it now spans across each of the 50 states and in 56 countries and territories around the world. Most chapters are found on middle school, high school, and college campuses. And while Best Buddies provides a litany of services, its primary purpose is creating “Buddy Pairs” between students and people with IDD who live in the surrounding area. Real, intentional, one-to-one friendships.

How did you get involved with Best Buddies?

While many people join due to personal experience, a family member, etc., I very much stumbled into the Best Buddies world. My best friend’s sister was president at my high school chapter and she invited us to spend some time with the group during lunch. The relationship-focused mission of the organization immediately grabbed hold of me and I had to get involved. I served as President of my high school’s chapter the following year and when I left for college, I did the same at SMU. I met my Buddy, Austin Davenport, in 2008. By 2009, he was married to his fiancé Christi and before I knew it I unofficially had 2 buddies. After graduation my role changed from hands-on to advisory (I sit on the JR Advisory Board for Best Buddies Texas). What didn’t change was my relationship with the Davenports. We probably get together once every two weeks and my life has never been the same since meeting those two knuckleheads. The funny part is, many people chalk up my time with them as charity. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Charity and volunteering, for me, looks like attending our monthly advisory meetings, providing video services for their events, and leading fund raising campaigns. Austin & Christi? They’re simply my friends. Best Buddies did its job.

Many people chalk up my time with them [Austin & Christi] as charity. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re simply my friends. Best Buddies did its job.

How has Sendero supported your passion for Best Buddies?

Ever since starting at Sendero in 2012, there has been this immense cross-section of both support and autonomy in regards to Best Buddies. I brought forth Best Buddies as a Community Wall organization and for the next 3 years, Sendero supported Best Buddies events by way of calls to action, assembling volunteers, and sponsoring events. The support was informal as well – coworkers would join me in ice cream runs with Austin and Christi as well as accompany me to the Dallas musical that many Best Buddies members take part in each year. I actually left Sendero for several years and upon my return, expected to need to bring Best Buddies back into the fold. But there was no need. While I was gone, the relationship was nurtured, prioritized, and supported just as much as it was before.

How can others get involved with Best Buddies?

Several ways! While we don’t yet have a Corporate Buddy Program in Dallas or Houston (meaning you can’t get paired with a Buddy unless you’re in school), there are countless ways to help support the cause. We have two annual fund raisers – the Friendship Walk in April and the Dallas Gala in November. By creating a team or landing a sponsor, you’re directly contributing to the creation and support of more chapters. If you’re looking for more consistent involvement, we have an Advisory Board that serves as a liaison between the staff and local chapters in Texas. And last but not least, the Winter Formal is always a hit. Not a fundraiser, not a Gala – but simply a celebration of the work done the previous year. I joined this organization thinking it was me who would be on the giving end – how wrong I was. I’ve learned more about compassion, loyalty, and unconditional love from these people than from any other experience in my life. And for that – I’m looking forward to the next 15 years.

To learn more about Best Buddies and explore other ways that you can get involved, check out available volunteer opportunities.

I’ve learned more about compassion, loyalty, and unconditional love from these people than from any other experience in my life. And for that - I’m looking forward to the next 15 years.

Ricky Townsend, Marketing Senior Specialist

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