In response to the continuing COVID-19 crisis, Best Buddies recently announced that its annual Walk For Inclusion would be transitioned to a virtual format on June 20.

Best Buddies creates opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) through a network of volunteers. This goal is accomplished through a plethora of celebratory events — the most notable being the organization's annual Walk for Inclusion — and by assigning registered members a "buddy," or an individual who lives nearby that has an IDD, to develop a friendship with.

“Our Friendship Walks are one of Best Buddies' most celebrated events, bringing communities together online where they can experience our mission in action,” Anthony K. Shriver, the founder, chairman and CEO of Best Buddies International, said in a press release. “This year, we’re excited to share a concept that’s unique, captivating and different than anything we’ve ever done with our first-ever virtual walk.”



On the day of the walk, participants will document themselves walking in their own chosen location via photo or video to encourage family and friends to support the event. Social media activities will accompany the personal documentation, including an opening ceremony at 9:15 a.m. on the Best Buddies International Facebook page and Instagram account, in which Shriver and celebrity ambassadors will inspire participants and supporters to walk for inclusion and friendship.

All proceeds generated by the Virtual Friendship Walk will be funneled into individual Best Buddies state chapters. Currently, Best Buddies International has state-specific programs in all 50 states, serving more than 350,000 members a year.

Nathan Reiman, the New Mexico state operations and programs director of Best Buddies International, voiced his support for rendering the annual walk virtually rather than canceling it entirely.

“These virtual times present a unique opportunity for our participants throughout the state to come together to celebrate inclusion, and we look forward to sharing this inspiring event with as many people as possible,” Reiman said.

Hailey Goheen, a UNM student and member of Best Buddies, echoed Reiman’s sentiment.

“Canceling it entirely would create such a loss of hope for many of our members,” Goheen said. “This walk is something that pulls many of the local Best Buddies organizations around town together and creates a moment where everyone is comfortable and connected.”

Best Buddies New Mexico currently has a chapter at the University of New Mexico. Ngoc Nguyen, secretary of the UNM chapter, said that he plans on attending the virtual walk this year and values it for its promotion of inclusion in addition to its fundraising potential.

“We are raising money, but it’s also about raising awareness and having fun connecting with people while doing so,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said the UNM Best Buddies chapter is unique because it is the first Best Buddies organization at the University and continues to welcome individuals from all ages and levels of education. Most importantly, he said, the UNM Best Buddies bolsters the University’s mission of diversity.

“The importance of having a UNM Best Buddies chapter is that it contributes to the diversity of UNM,” Nguyen said. “Having this organization helps create one-on-one, lasting friendships that broadens one’s view of the world and, being a part of this chapter, you change someone’s world.”

Goheen said Best Buddies can be an escape from the occasionally tumultuous nature of daily life by providing therapeutic activities to complete with cherished friends.

“We all share many laughs and complete really cool activities, like painting rocks, making mini sculptures out of clay and even talking about TikTok,” she said. “I am really upset that we have had to distance ourselves from everyone that is in our organization, which is why I think that this virtual walk is so important. This walk will reunite many faces, both old and hopefully new.”

Goheen said she regards Best Buddies as her area of comfort, especially after a strenuous day at school or work.

“I think many of our Buddies have the same thoughts,” she said. “Best Buddies is a place where we are connected.”

Those interested in participating in the Virtual Walk can sign up for free here.

Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli