At Franklin, Amanda Foxman '91, "witnessed firsthand how attitudes can change through exposure to new ideas" and learned that it was truly possible to change the world for the better. "Differences should be celebrated," she says, "whether they are cultural, religious, or developmental. The experience I gained through Franklin enabled me to embrace differences and find commonality with a range of people," a skill that is quite applicable to her current work.
Amanda Foxman '91 with her sons: Hank, Jack and Ned Foxman
Since February 2013, Amanda has applied such lessons to her job as state director of Best Buddies International, "a non-profit organization that creates more inclusive and accepting schools, workplaces, and communities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)." Each participant with IDD is paired in a one-on-one friendship with an individual without IDD. Such relationships are meant to "inspire them to become engaged community leaders in the movement to end social isolation for people with IDD" and to provide them with a new perspective and skills. The organization works with both school-age constituents and adults to create "cultures of inclusion" in schools, the workplace, and communities in general.
Amanda initially became involved with the organization when her son was diagnosed with autism. "Through our experience with Autism," she says, "we realized that despite the best treatment available--behavioral therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, you name it--there was one thing that we could not provide for him. We could not “buy” him the ability to experience friendship. Having friends seems simple, but when your “operating system” cannot communicate with typical peers' “operating systems”, it is tremendously difficult to develop and maintain relationships. Individuals with disabilities feel the lack of relationships as keenly as their typical peers." Best Buddies International provides the opportunity for individuals with disabilities to create such meaningful relationships with people their age. Her work with the foundation is ideal because it both directly impacts her family, while still allowing her to spend time with them.
Though many of Amanda's experiences at Best Buddies highlight its extensive positive impact, one such memory stands out. At the Blue Gold Basketball games, an event where top high school athletes are paired with Buddies with IDD, she recalls an inspiring moment. "I will never forget walking into the Blue Gold banquet and seeing a table full of athletes enthusiastically calling over a young woman with Down Syndrome," she says. "They did not treat her any differently than they did their peers; they included her in their conversation, had saved a seat for her at their table and were visibly happy to be with her. You can imagine her response, she was glowing with happiness. She had peers who accepted and valued her."
Best Buddies plans to expand to 100 countries, train Buddy Ambassadors, develop more jobs for people with IDD, and increase their chapters in schools by the end of 2020. Personally Amanda hopes volunteers around the world will join the organization in achieving these goals, thereby increasing its positive global impact. "Getting involved is always the first, most critical step," she says. Organizations like Best Buddies seek volunteers with a variety of skills, from communication to financial literacy, so anyone can volunteer. The best way to get involved is to find a local Best Buddies office in your area by going to www.bestbuddies.org, or even starting one yourself if none exist near you. "Our global volunteer movement exists because of volunteers," Amanda says, "become one!"