Audi is proud to partner with Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for one-to-one friendship and integrated employment to people with intellectual disabilities. Since 2007, Audi has been the exclusive automotive sponsor of Best Buddies within the Americas and supports numerous projects and fundraising events in Europe and overseas.
The Audi/Best Buddies partnership continues to expand each year with numerous events and initiatives to support the Best Buddies Organization. The largest of these events are the Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port and the Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle, which take riders on a 100-mile bike race from Boston to Hyannis Port and Carmel to San Simeon, all while raising thousands of dollars for the charity. This year, Best Buddies and Audi will introduce a new race in the Nation’s Capital, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Challenge, which will be a tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s life and legacy as well as her dedication to helping those with intellectual disabilities.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver is the Founder and Chairman of Best Buddies International, which he created in 1989 to foster one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Recognizing the tremendous volunteer potential of university students, Mr. Shriver first inspired his college peers to personally collaborate in expanding the realm of opportunities that persons with intellectual disabilities should experience as fully integrated members of society.
Today, through Mr. Shriver's stewardship and entrepreneurial spirit, Best Buddies has grown into a leading nonprofit entity with increasing international reach across six continents – creating mutually enriching one-to-one friendships and integrated employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
Best Buddies is comprised of six programs that positively impact more than 300,000 participants every year. The organization is active in each of the 50 United States, and operates accredited international programs in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, England, Egypt, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates – with additional country programs in advanced phases of development. By 2010, Best Buddies will continue to build on its successful volunteer base in all 50 States, further expand its accredited international programs to 50 countries and annually engage more than 500,000 people worldwide.
A graduate of Georgetown University, Mr. Shriver has been recognized for his work on behalf of Best Buddies International with such honors as the 2005 Excellence in Mentoring Award for Programmatic Leadership; the 2004 President's Call to Service Award by the President of the United States' Council on Service & Civic Participation; the 1999 Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 Years or Younger; the 1998 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award; and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Loyola College. Mr. Shriver additionally is a founding member of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders.
Ms. Shriver, Best Buddies international aims to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. What makes its concept so unique, in your opinion?
I think everybody wants a friend. People with intellectual disabilities are often overlooked. Whether in schools or in jobs, people don’t think to include them. So I think it’s a very powerful emotion, when you’re able to connect to another person. I think it’s a feeling that everybody understands and should realize that everybody needs it, whether you’re intellectually disabled, a man or a woman – everybody needs that in their life.
You have been chairing the Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle Challenge for several years now. Why is this event so special to you?
Because it’s my brother! I think every organization that’s successful has a philosophy and I think Anthony’s an extraordinary leader. To me, I like this because I can involve my children. I can ride in these races with my kids. I can talk to my children about people with intellectual disabilities. I can help to promote people with intellectual disabilities. There’s friends of mine who own businesses who’ve hired people with intellectual disabilities. And in the state government. And it’s an easy way to feel like you’re doing something and it’s something that I think you enjoy.
How do you see Corporate Responsibility as regards a major company like Audi?
I think every non-profit needs a sponsor to help them. They need individuals to volunteer, they need sponsors to believe in them, they need money to raise, they need people to do the work. So Best Buddies has forged incredible private partnerships with businesses here in California. This is the most successful state in the nation. It’s innovative. So as usual, California is leading, so we can help other chapters around the country. So I hope that this is a way that California can lead – with this bike race, by hiring people in the state government with intellectual disabilities and helping corporations understand that they can make a difference.
Some years ago your husband Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also worked as a volunteer for an organization for the disabled: The Special Olympics. How has that experience been for you and him?
I think you’ll have to ask Arnold about his experience, but I think he got involved with Special Olympics because he believed that people with intellectual disabilities should have the right to compete athletically. I think anyone involved in sports know what sports does for them and that that should be something that’s open to everyone. So (he) being a professional athlete and the Special Olympics has so many professional athletes involved in them, he has to do that.
Being a popular journalist, mother of four children, member of the Kennedy family and First Lady of California, some may claim that you´ve always lived on the sunny side of life. What is your personal recipe to cope with life's challenges?
Well I think everybody, regardless of looking a certain way, or having a certain life, everyone’s a human being. Everyone has struggles and the same needs, which are to be loved and to be accepted. So I try to spend my time with friends. I’m very spiritual, so that’s always a big part of my life, so I always try to take the philosophy of “one day at a time.”
If you had a single wish for Best Buddies International and people with intellectual disabilities in general – what would it be?
My wish for people with intellectual disabilities is the same as my wish for you and everyone else, which is to find people in your life that love you and accept you and with whom you feel comfortable just being. People that accept you for who you are.
You are known and respected to be a very engaged First Lady of California. How do you think your role in that capacity can impact this organization?
I think being First Lady of the State of California and putting your name on an organization like this you can really make it happen. People want to be involved with whomever is the first lady of any state, not just me. So it’s a great opportunity, as long as you use it wisely and for things that are authentic to you – and I’m very careful to always put my name on things that I actually show up for and that I believe in.
Anthony, Best Buddies international aims to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. What makes its concept so unique, in your opinion?
I think in the end, all we want is friendship and to be recognized and I think people with intellectual disabilities have been so segregated historically, that when given the chance to establish a relationship with another person, it’s a powerful experience for them. It gets them out into the community and onto college campuses and high school campuses and movie theaters. It really gives them a sense of what it’s like to belong and be a part of community life and it opens the eyes of our volunteers. They have no idea before they establish a relationship with people with intellectual disabilities that 1) people with intellectual disabilities actually exist, 2) that they can give a speech in public and stand up behind a mic; that they can get married and have kids. So it’s a huge eye opener for them and they develop an enormous sense of compassion and they realize at a young age that if you establish a relationship with someone different from you, you are so enriched by that kind of relationship. So I think both people get something out of it and (with) anything that’s a two-way street you have success. One way streets never work. So I think with Best Buddies both people are thriving in these relationships, so that’s why we have a lot of success.
Can you tell us about some personal experiences you’ve had with helping to change people’s lives, or about the inspirations for Best Buddies for you?
You know, I’ve seen it so many times. I think the things that are most important and the things I recognize the most are the relationships I’ve had. I’ve got a buddy in Miami who lived home alone, came home alone at night and watched TV and now we’ve helped to open up a whole social network for him. He’s got a job – the same job for 12 years – he’s got a whole new group of friends, he rides public transportation all over the city, he goes to Heat basketball games for which he’s a season ticket holder. So his whole life is different. I may have started with him, but he’s really built a whole network in Miami on his own. So when you look at a guy like that, you see an individual human being whose life is totally changed because of Best Buddies. Not just me, but because of Best Buddies’ help. I’ve heard countless stories like that of people who didn’t have what you’d call a real life, and they’ve developed a life. And it begins with one person believing in them and one person paying attention and believing they can do something. That they can be out there the community, and it changes their life.
Best Buddies strives to unite people from different background through the universal bond of friendship. What does friendship mean to you personally?
Your time and your life and your passion and your heart towards another human being and getting so much back at the same time. I think when you do that, you really experience friendship. You give and you give and another person gives back – that’s friendship to me. The more that you give of yourself, the more powerful your friendship is with a human being. The more I give to my wife and kids, all the sudden my relationship is stronger with them. I think Best Buddies does that. It pulls that out of people. And I think people don’t realize that (when) they enter into public service that you’re really servicing your own soul – your own spirit.
Best Buddies has branches around the globe. How does the situation of intellectually disabled persons differ in different cultures?
Depends on where you go. If you go into the middle east you’ve got the whole sex issue and religious issue and the whole territorial issue. The view that people have of family life where everything is kept so close to home. I think in the Middle East a lot of people with intellectual disabilities are kept at home. Parents are embarrassed about having children with intellectual disabilities. You can’t pair up females with males and males with females. It’s very difficult to go out into the community out at all. So to try and push Best Buddies forward is very challenging. So most of the interaction takes place schools, and the parents are still very reluctant. You go to countries like Mexico, it’s very tough. We happen to have a great partnership there with Carlos Lim, who’s one of the wealthiest men in the world, so our program is well-funded, but still people are looking to survive in Mexico in many ways. They’re looking to put a roof over their head. So they’re not thinking so much about people with intellectual disabilities or that population because they’re just trying to feed themselves. You get a lot of that in South America and in Central America. Europe, we do much better because it’s a wealthier continent, but we still have challenges, because many people view it as the State’s responsibility to take care of people with intellectual disabilities, so they don’t see themselves as volunteers, they don’t see it as their job. They pay high taxes so they want the state to deal with it. So creating a sense of responsibility in those cultures is very tough. Trying to get young people involved in volunteer services is very tough because their parents didn’t do it. SO everywhere you go you have different challenges. China’s a whole different beast, because philanthropy’s not really embedded in the culture there. People are very segregated. People with intellectual disabilities are tucked away. Many still live in institutions. The care for people with intellectual disabilities in China is horrendous. Russia’s the same way. So every country has different challenges. We go in with this concept of friendship and we need to modify it and adapt it to make it work in those countries. And we need to do as much as we can do to try to push the envelope in the country that we’re in so that we can continue to get to where we are in the US or Canada or Ireland. So it’s a balancing act. It’s tough, but it’s exciting.
If you had a free wish for Best Buddies international and people with intellectual disabilities in general – what would it be?
I hope to wipe Best Buddies out. I hope to go out of business. I want in 20 years to not be doing this anymore. I really hope that Best Buddies doesn’t have to exist in 20 years. I hope that we don’t have to be encouraging young people 20 years from now to be establishing friendships with people with intellectual disabilities. I think that would be sad. I hope that we don’t have to be encouraging employers to hire them. I hope that we don’t have to encourage parents to be accepting of them. I really hope that all these issues we’re trying to advocate for and all these issues we’re trying to make people aware of just won’t exist anymore. That everyone will be acclimated and accepted and we’re going to welcome difference in our society.