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The Best Buddies Leadership Conference: why you should volunteer



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David Quilleon, senior vice president of global mission, state development and operations for Best Buddies, performs "The Greatest Show" from the movie "The Greatest Showman" at the Best Buddies Leadership Conference on Friday evening in the IU Auditorium. Quilleon has been an employee at Best Buddies since 1996, and has been part of the organization since 1991.  Matt Begala Buy Photos

My fourth Best Buddies Leadership Conference came to a close on July 22. For the uninitiated: Best Buddies International is an organization in which individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities are paired up in a one-to-one friendship with someone without disabilities. 

At these conferences, chapter leaders and ambassadors from across the globe come together for training, advocacy, and celebration. While not as glamorous, many individuals opt simply to volunteer. I did just that this weekend, and here’s why you should consider doing the same in the years to follow.

The Best Buddies Leadership Conference is a Bloomington mainstay, and we should do everything in our power to keep it that way. The number of annual attendees exceeds 2,600 individuals from over 50 different countries. This means an influx of parents, staff and attendees flocking to Bloomington restaurants and stores. Not only will they be coming with money to spend, but the same open-mindedness that parallels the “Hoosier Hospitality” of towns like Bloomington. 

Those that attend the conference are also paying $350 each to stay on-campus at IU. Much of what is grossed from these conference dues are put back into the school, creating an ever-improving campus for the students of IU BBLC has been coming to Bloomington for 16 years and is only growing larger as time goes on, so Bloomington residents should be quick to support the conference as volunteers. 

The first two years I came to BBLC, I was a high schooler, and nothing drove me to be a passionate leader for my chapter like those first few years of attendance. The pure inhibition and bliss I always felt from my participation is indescribable. 

Those who have made this such a moving, formative experience possible for me have all of my gratitude. Knowing that you could help put together a wonderful weekend for newer supporters of a good cause is reason enough to become a volunteer. Because of these efforts by volunteers, it appears I will be following a similar career path to many staff members of Best Buddies International. The initiative taken by volunteers helped shape the trajectory of my life.

Consider what your work could do for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability. 

I befriended a young man at the Best Buddies Leadership Conference named Clay. I had volunteered as a youth speech coach, and this position paired he and I together to prepare a speech. This is a job where I put his words onto paper, assisted him in the delivery of his words and helped paint a picture that best captured his view of the struggles he has endured. Through doing this, I not only learned what an impressive, friendly person he is, but I also learned he was incredibly grateful for the help I had given him with his speech. 

While I think the factors I listed before are beneficial, none affected me in the way that his enthusiasm and tears of joy did. He and I could not have been more elated that he was able to share his story before a room of loving people, and I hope we get to do it again next year.

The residents of Bloomington have long been recognized as champions of inclusion and acceptance, which is why more town residents should venture onto campus to promote greater opportunity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. People like Clay are the reason that I come back to BBLC, and they should be the reason that you decide to volunteer in the years to follow. 

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