On Tuesday, April 5th, Audi of America presented 14 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) with a once-in-a “lifetime opportunity” when it hosted the Best Buddies Virginia Ambassador training in its corporate headquarters. Best Buddies Virginia (BBVA) currently operates chartered chapters in 30 middle schools, high schools and colleges across the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the District of Columbia, enriching the lives of more than 13,500 individuals annually.
The training, led by Best Buddies Deputy Director of Programs Kali Wasenko, is part of the Best Buddies Ambassador Program and was designed to provide Best Buddies participants with IDD with the opportunity to develop their self-advocacy and social and life skills through speech writing and public speaking. Supporting the Buddies were volunteer speech coaches who worked with them individually. Audi of America employees Nancy Chelsey, Brendan Fitzgibbon, Shaun Fletcher, Anja Kaehny, Andrea Santilli and Julia Suh-Chun graciously volunteered their time and talents to serve as speech coaches at the training.
It was a memorable and heartwarming experience for all. For the Buddies, each of whom had been selected by their chapters for this honor, it was an opportunity to find their voice and tell their stories. With prompts that included “What is one thing I want people to know about me?”, “What can people with disabilities accomplish?” and “How does my community view people with disabilities?”, the Buddies worked with their coaches to write speeches which they later presented to a crowd that included proud parents, teachers and friends. The Buddies spoke of the importance of friendships, inclusion and community support in addressing issues as bullying, intolerance and prejudice as well as their dreams for futures that include employment and independent living.
“I want people to just take a chance and look past my disability,” said new Buddy Ambassador Theo Gayle of Chantilly High School. “I want them to see what’s inside of me and not just a boy in a wheelchair.” And, now thanks to Audi, Theo and his fellow Buddy Ambassadors are ready to share their stories with the world.
“Audi is a company that takes corporate social responsibility very seriously. It is important for us to be an active and contributing member of the Greater Washington D. C. area, and give back to the community that houses our headquarters”, said Johan de Nysschen, President of Audi of America. “We consider this a tremendous opportunity for our employees to get involved with Best Buddies on a one-to-one basis and will continue to encourage them to volunteer in the future. Donating time and dedication on a personal level is one of the most valuable commitments to make.”