MINNETRISTA, Minnesota — This pandemic has a lot of people feeling isolated and lonely.
Best Buddies Minnesota, a 501(c)(3) organization, is hoping to help people across the state forge unique friendships and build self-esteem while also staying safe and healthy.
One way that's happening is the Citizen Program, which matches an adult with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities), in a one-on-one friendship with a peer without a disability.
Earlier this month, KARE 11 connected with Minnesota's first virtual match in the program, Rachel Origer and Josh Altman.
The two new buddies met face-to-face for the first time in front of an open fire in Minnetrista, instead of a Zoom call.
"It's going to be a really nice time to enjoy this, because I'll learn a lot more from her and maybe she'll learn a lot more from me," said Altman.
Vince Wren, the Volunteer Coordinator with Best Buddies, helped launch the effort right as COVID-19 took off.
"So, it was unique to put it in the slightest. When we first discussed opening the citizens programs, we had planned for being in person. You know, the landscape changed very rapidly and we had to adjust," explained Wren.
Even though meetings are virtual, Best Buddies hopes participants will take away a lot just by being able to talk to someone and create a friendship.
"I think it's incredibly important to have these connections especially now," said Wren.
Origer, a recent Iowa State grad, moved to Minnesota and saw an opportunity to make a connection and make a difference.
"I hope to be a great friend for Josh, and someone that he can hang out with, and try new things with, and just have fun with," she said.
The pair do a lot of that. They join larger groups online for everything from Halloween parties to yoga and dance classes.
Rachel and Josh are also creating a special bond that will last for years to come.
If you want to get involved, check out these Best Buddies programs:
High Schools and Colleges – Creates an inclusive school environment for individuals with IDD during times of social and emotional development by matching students with and without disabilities into one-to-one friendships.
Citizens – Supports adults with and without IDD in developing meaningful friendships. Many people with IDD have limited opportunities for social interactions after they leave the school environment.
e-Buddies – An e-mail program, in which a participant with IDD communicates online with a friend without IDD
Ambassadors – Offers people with IDD the opportunity to gain the public speaking skills, self-esteem and confidence needed to successfully advocate for themselves, their peers, and Best Buddies in communities, workplaces, and government.
Virtual Programming – Since the onset of COVID-19 Best Buddies Minnesota has introduced several virtual programs via Zoom for individuals with and without disabilities to participate in weekly.
To learn more, visit the Best Buddies Minnesota website.