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By Janelle Morrison. Photos by JJ Kaplan.

Best Buddies Indiana founder Mary Delaney and her daughter Meghan

Best Buddies Indiana founder Mary Delaney and her daughter Meghan

Nearly 18 years ago, Mary Delaney was sitting at home watching the “Today Show” with her infant daughter, Meghan, who has Down syndrome. It piqued Delaney’s interest when the show featured a promo for Best Buddies International, an organization that consists of volunteers who create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She called the national headquarters and subsequently connected with David Quilleon, now the senior vice president, Major Gifts, Mission & Operations, for Best Buddies International. The two conversed over a period of three years on how to establish an office and begin chapters in Indiana.

The first hurdle was to raise $100,000. Delaney was a board member for Down Syndrome Indiana along with Angela Touseull, who launched Indiana’s first Buddy Walk in the fall of 1998 that raised more than $30,000. The DSI board decided to donate, from its proceeds, the funds to host a fundraiser and raise the money needed to open a local Best Buddies office. The concept of a Black and White Ball was created, and that would become the primary annual fundraiser for Best Buddies of Indiana.

Utilizing her resources and connections in the not-for-profit world, Delaney and her supporters raised $72,000 at their first gala, and Down Syndrome Indiana donated the remaining $28,000 to meet their goal. Overcoming multiple challenges along the way, Best Buddies Indiana was established in 2001, and Delaney served as its first board president.

Originally founded by Anthony K. Shriver, the chairman of Best Buddies International, the organization was created in 1989 to foster one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Shriver is the son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics; the brother of Maria Shriver; and the nephew of the late John F. Kennedy. Under Shriver’s leadership, Best Buddies International is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to almost 1,700 middle school, high school and college chapters worldwide.

Delaney spoke about the progress that the local office has made since its inception in 2001.

“We started out by hiring a state director and one program manager, and that’s what we had for three years,” says Delaney. “We focused on hosting the gala as our predominant fundraiser. We were able to write grants, hired another program manager and opened more chapters. In the beginning, we were practically begging schools to open chapters, and today we have a waiting list. Best Buddies will not open new chapters until we have the proper resources and program directors in place.”

Advocacy and awareness of the Best Buddies programs offered at the middle school, high school and college levels are ongoing initiatives for the local BBI board.

“We are continuing to open middle school chapters along with the high school and college chapters that we started with,” Delaney stated. “Westfield, Zionsville and Carmel high schools were among the first high school chapters and Indiana University was one of the first colleges to come on board.”

Today there are more than 20 Indiana middle schools, nearly 50 high schools and 16 colleges that have active Best Buddies chapters. Since 1995, Best Buddies schools and colleges have paired students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in one-to-one friendships with peer students. In the past, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have not had the opportunity to have friends outside of their own special education classroom. Best Buddies college programs also offer volunteers a unique opportunity to develop leadership skills. With the support of school faculty and Best Buddies staff, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities lead and direct the chapters in their schools.

The 13th annual Best Buddies Indiana Black and White Ball will be held Saturday, March 1, at D’Amore, located on top of the Chase Tower in downtown Indianapolis. The ball raises funds to maintain and expand BBI’s existing programs and advocacy. Guests will experience a spectacular evening featuring live and silent auctions, a gourmet dinner, a complimentary martini bar, live entertainment, and an opportunity to meet some inspiring Buddy Pairs and the incredible team of individuals who make up the Best Buddies of Indiana organization.

For more information on Best Buddies of Indiana, visit bestbuddiesindiana.org, and for ticket or sponsorship information regarding the Black and White Ball, visit bestbuddiesindiana.org/ball.

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