By Katelyn Gendron
Assistant Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD Being someone's "best bud" has been given a whole new meaning thanks to the non-profit Best Buddies.
The organization's Western Massachusetts division serves more than 800 students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) attending middle and high schools and colleges by pairing them with volunteers who develop friendships and enhance social interaction.
According to Kate Crowther, area director for Best Buddies Massachusetts, more can be done to better the lives of those with IDD, which is why her organization has founded the inaugural Best Buddies Open golf tournament on June 20.
"Best Buddies Massachusetts, for which we are a regional office, does not receive any state or federal aid to run our programs. Additionally, for every dollar we raise, 89 on the dollar goes directly to our programs," Crowther explained.
"The foundation we are building is for a legacy of inclusion and acceptance for people with IDD," she continued. "We are a community supported and grant funded organization. Without special events like this, we are not able to maintain funding for the programs we have or take steps to expand.
"Once we are able to attain stability, we will be able to incorporate the Best Buddies Integrated Employment program to our region. The unemployment rate for people with IDD is approximately 90 percent unemployed.
"Without employment, not only does a person face an uncertain future, but requires a greater dependence on already taxed social services and state programs.
"Best Buddies is an intermediary for addressing these hardships while, at the same time, creating a better future for the beneficiary and enriching the work environment of our employer partner," she continued.
Crowther said the monies raised will go toward the promotion of several goals, including effective one-to-one mentoring opportunities; reversing stigmas associated with those who have IDD; and developing social skills for people with IDD that aid in their independence.
Crowther said by pairing with businesses and celebrities such as the New England Patriots, she hopes the golf tournament will yield at least $25,000.
Ben Craft, chair of the advisory board for Best Buddies Western Massachusetts, noted that in light of the June 1 tornado, the organization has decided to forego gifts for golfers and instead donate $5 per participant to relief efforts.
"One of the priorities of Best Buddies is to be part of the community," he said of the donation.
Craft emphasized the value of Best Buddy friendships adding, "We're hoping that people will come out for the day and come away feeling energized, while understanding the value of these relationships with a desire to participate in the long term."
The tournament will take place June 20 at Hampden Country Club with a registration and barbecue lunch at 10:30 a.m. Registration fees are $100 per golfer or $400 per foursome.
Those who'd rather participate in just the post-golf reception at 5:30 p.m. may do so for a cost of $30 per ticket.
For more information, to register or to become a sponsor, visit the organization's Web site, www.bestbuddiesmassachusetts.org/golf or call Crowther at 259-1714.
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