Fort Myers, FL, May 7, 2018 — Best Buddies International, a nonprofit founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), is excited to announce a generous grant from the Golisano Foundation of $300,000 to expand its work in Southwest Florida to serve more individuals with IDD.

“With the grant provided by the Golisano Foundation, Best Buddies will focus on developing one-to-one friendship opportunities in schools (elementary to collegiate levels) located in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties, with hopes to expand into Glades and Hendry counties as well,” said Melanie Musick, Area Director.

Three members of the local area have committed to serve on the Advisory Board: Samantha Clark of Caring Transitions in Bonita Springs and Naples; Suzanne Tocci of Tortuga Preserve Elementary in Lehigh Acres; and Jodi Suskind of Thrivent Financial in Fort Myers.

With the Golisano Foundation’s support, Best Buddies was launched in Southwest Florida just a few months ago in October 2017. Funding has supported organizing the local office, providing for space and operations. The Southwest Florida office is now open and located at 5237 Summerlin Commons Blvd. in Fort Myers and is staffed with two full-time employees, Melanie Musick, Area Director and Program Manager Katie Vazquez, who is the school liaison. Currently, Southwest Florida has Best Buddies chapters at Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers High, Ida Baker High, Lehigh Senior High, Manatee Middle, Gateway Charter Intermediate, Varsity Lakes Middle, Tortuga Preserve Elementary, and Babcock Neighborhood School. Each chapter is supported by a Faculty Advisor and/or Special Education Advisor plus a Chapter President, in addition to the Program Manager.

“We are so pleased to support the launch and expansion of Best Buddies in Southwest Florida,” said Ann Costello, Executive Director of the Golisano Foundation. “The success we achieved opening Best Buddies in Western NY, has enabled us to replicate that in Southwest Florida. We had some delays launching due to Hurricane Irma, but the team in Southwest Florida made up for that and picked up a lot of steam in a short period of time. Best Buddies has an exceptional track record. It is focused on the next generation, it changes attitudes, fosters inclusion and friendships that transcend differences. We are excited that we are able to expand this work building inclusive communities in Southwest Florida.”

In conjunction with presenting sponsor FGCU Best Buddies, the local Best Buddies office will coordinate its inaugural Southwest Florida Friendship Ball, a prom-like event, open to high school and college members on November 3 at the Cohen Center Ballroom on FGCU’s campus. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

For more information about Best Buddies Southwest Florida, please contact Area Director Melanie Musick at melaniemusick@bestbuddies.org, or 239-275-2510.

Best Buddies® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to nearly 2,500 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Today, Best Buddies’ eight formal programs — Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies® , Jobs, Ambassadors, and Promoters — engage participants in each of the 50 states and in 50 countries, positively impacting the lives of more than 1.2 million people with and without disabilities around the world. In many cases, as a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships. For more information, please visit www.bestbuddies.org, facebook.com/bestbuddies or twitter.com/bestbuddies.

About the Golisano Foundation
The Golisano Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States devoted exclusively to supporting programs for people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1985 by Tom Golisano, the founder and Chairman of Paychex, the Foundation now has more than $40 million in assets and awards about $2 million annually, to non-profit organizations in the western and Finger Lakes regions of New York, and Southwest Florida that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Golisano Foundation is committed to opening doors, changing perceptions, and forging partnerships to provide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with pathways to self-sufficiency, personal dignity, and the best possible expression of their abilities and talents throughout their lifetimes. Through its targeted initiatives, the Foundation envisions that communities will encourage and commit to inclusion, acceptance and opportunity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; and provide services that empower individuals to make their way productively and creatively in their communities.
For more information see golisanofoundation.org., facebook.com/GolisanoFoundation and Twitter.com/GolisanoFdn.

This article was submitted by a Guest Author of the Above Board Chamber.