They started out as strangers only to become the best of friends.
“We match a young person with an intellectual disability in high school with a peer mentor. So it’s someone around their same age and they do things any other typical teen would want to do,” says Best Buddies State Director Laura Holms.
Annie Woiwood and her buddy Maddie Smithey are no exception.
“Go to the mall and Orange Leaf,” says Woiwood, a senior at Valley High School.
“She doesn’t really have any typical peer friends that would call her to do that otherwise. It’s so important for Annie. She loves her buddy,” says mom Lisa Woiwood.
Woiwood can see the difference the program has made in her daughter’s life over the last four years.
“It gives me joy to know that she’s included and has a friendship,” she says.
This year, they all have a new friend,Tyler Sash of the New York Giants.
“When you meet those kids, it kind of melts your heart a little bit. It’s something that I wanted to get involved with,” says Sash.
Sash and his girlfriend are Best Buddies Iowa Ambassadors. After taking part in a quick warm-up, the crowd of more 400 is ready for the 7th annual Friendship Walk. The walk and 5K run raises money for the organization.
“To me, that’s all that matters is just getting out and supporting each one of those kids,” says Sash.
“It also just provides our young people without a disability this wonderful volunteer opportunity to be of service and to meet someone whose different than them, but then to realize that they’re not so different after all,” says Holms.
The Friendship Walk hoped to raise about $40,000. The organization is trying to develop a new program that pairs up adults called Best Buddies Citizens.