KOP Insiders delves into the stories of the people who make King of Prussia one of Pennsylvania’s most dynamic live-work-play-stay destinations.
In depth interviews provide insight into the companies that make up our diverse business community and put a face to the individuals behind the business. In this edition, we are joined by Hilary Stephens, State Director of Best Buddies Pennsylvania.
Can you tell us about your background and how it led you to your current role as State Director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Best Buddies?
I have been the State Director of Best Buddies in Pennsylvania for three years. Prior to that, I worked at an educational and residential treatment program called Woods Services in Bucks County, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And before that, I worked both for Best Buddies and for Special Olympics in Washington, DC. I have always worked with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and inclusion is really a passion of mine.
Best Buddies assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We have programs across the United States. Here in Pennsylvania, we have an office in Pittsburgh, and another in King of Prussia. We serve about 7,000 people with and without intellectual disabilities in our state. We have 164 chapters in schools across the state. We are in 26 counties, and we run about 125 different events every year. Some of them are virtual, and some are in-person, but we’re certainly moving in the direction of in-person.
It is important to understand what role Best Buddies plays in the development of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities because 81% of this population is unemployed. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to find a job; it means that very often they can’t retain a job. We find that many of the individuals we serve want a job, but they lack the social skills necessary to be successful. Best Buddies is all about developing these social skills through friendship and self-advocacy so that once in the workforce, they can really be successful in their roles.
We have been in King of Prussia for about eight years now. For a couple of years, we were over on Allendale Road and now we have an office at Freedom Business Center.
How can someone who is living and/or working in King of Prussia engage with your organization, whether that’s getting services or volunteering in some way?
Our program is largely school-based with a sweet spot for high school and college-level individuals. We do have a program for people who are no longer in school called Best Buddies Citizens. This program is community-based with activities happening virtually on a weekly basis across the state. What we used to do locally; we can now do statewide, which has allowed us to put on even more activities than ever before.
We are always looking for volunteers. Especially someone who would be interested in being matched with someone with IDD (intellectual developmental disabilities). There is a long waiting list of adults with disabilities that are looking for a friend/partner. I would certainly encourage anybody who would like to volunteer to sign up on our website, www.bestbuddies.org/pennsylvania. And if there are any questions, we can answer them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What sort of activities are there for someone who volunteers with Best Buddies Citizens?
When someone is matched in the Best Buddies Citizens program, it’s essential to have at least two interactions a month with their buddy. We encourage that at least one of those connections be an in-person activity such as going to a sporting event or having a meal in a restaurant. Right now, we are organizing a screening of a new movie called Champion which is about an individual with IDD. This will be an event that a large group of citizens can attend in Philadelphia. We also have tickets to Villanova basketball games, and host barbecues in the summer. While we support group activities, we also really encourage individual activities with buddies, whether it’s going to a baseball game, or just doing something locally.
Can you tell us about the annual Best Buddies Friendship Walk?
We have two signature events each year for Best Buddies; one is the Friendship Walk and the other is a gala, called Champion of the Year, which is held in November each year. (I am taking out location because we may change this year). The Best Buddies Friendship Walk will take place this year on Saturday, April 29, at 9:30 am at Freedom Business Center next to the new Topgolf. We are expecting 700 to 800 people to attend including not just participants or students that are in our programs, but their families, friends and acquaintances.
Our goal is to raise $100,000 to help provide funding for programs such as One-To-One Friendships, Leadership Development and Integrated Employment. Last year, we held the walk downtown in Philadelphia and while it was successful, we didn’t have quite as many people as we would have liked. This year, we are returning to King of Prussia. Our hope is to have more students and members of the community in King of Prussia, who may not have known we were there before, participate. We have been making a very concerted effort to reach out to corporations and organizations in King of Prussia, with the idea that they might want to create teams of employees for the events. It’s not just people who are directly involved in Best Buddies, but those who want to walk for inclusion and really have a passion for it the same way that we do.
Can someone register as an individual if they would like to participate on their own?
If someone is interested in participating, they should go to the event website —www.bestbuddiesfriendshipwalk.org/Philadelphia. When you sign on, you are given the option of either registering as an individual or registering as a team. Or you can do what I did, which was register as an individual and then two weeks later, turn it into a team! There is no requirement for fundraising, but if you raise $50, you qualify for a T-shirt. If you raise $100, $250 or $500 there are different incentives along the way. There are walks across the country that are raising as much as $500,000 a year and so ours is growing. We’re expecting it to be up over where it was last year, but we still have a long way to go.
One of the reasons this walk is so important is that we do not have a Best Buddies Jobs program here in Pennsylvania. Across the country, 13 of our states have a Best Buddies Jobs program that focuses on integrated employment. That is a real need and a real interest in eastern Pennsylvania, and we want very much to launch a jobs program. Part of the funding from this walk will go to furthering our efforts to develop a jobs program.
What are some sponsorship opportunities associated with the walk or throughout the year that companies could take advantage of?
We are always looking for sponsors for either of our big events. There are opportunities for organizations that are interested in this population, or in the health and welfare of this community, to get tables and join us for the festivities after the Best Buddies Friendship Walk where we expect to have approximately 700 or 800 people. There are also opportunities for sponsorship at $5,000, $2,500 or $1,500 levels. We are still searching for a presenting sponsor for the Best Buddies Friendship Walk in King of Prussia. The presenting sponsor level is $10,000.
What do you and your staff enjoy about working in King of Prussia?
First, I want to say how delighted all of us are to be back in the office. I think in the beginning, we kind of resisted because everybody’s been at home for a long time and commuting to work takes time out of all of our days. But I have to say that King of Prussia is back, it is a vital community. I’m surprised every time I go to Philly and then come back to King of Prussia, how much activity and things there are. All the restaurants are full, and there’s just an energy to Montgomery County and to King of Prussia that you don’t find in a lot of other counties.
We’re thrilled to be in King of Prussia. And of course, it’s a perfect location for us because we have about 95 schools in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s fantastic having all of these schools within 30 to 40 minutes of our office.
The floor is yours. Tell us anything you’d like to share about yourself or Best Buddies.
There’s always a need for volunteers. We call volunteers anyone who participates in one of our programs, for example, as a citizens pair or as a friend or just people who help us with our events. Right now, we are putting together a planning committee for the Best Buddies Friendship Walk. This event is a 99.9% volunteer movement. We are looking for people with backgrounds in logistics, publicity and sponsorship. We’re trying to fill a role called Team Retention Chair. The primary role of this person is to ensure that teams that have participated in the past sign up for this year. There’s a lot of telephone work that doesn’t necessarily have to be done in our office. As we get closer to the event, we will need volunteers to help order and fold T-shirts and get ready for the actual event. On the day of the event, we need 40 to 50 volunteers to help serve breakfast and lunch. We need a lot of course marshals that are out along the course in case anybody needs anything. If you are interested in volunteering for this event, please email us at Pennsylvania@bestbuddies.org. There are other opportunities throughout the year as well if you’re interested in getting engaged beyond the walk.
About Best Buddies in Philadelphia
Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
640 Freedom Business Center, Suite 115, King of Prussia, PA 19406| bestbuddies.org/pennsylvania