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U.S. Senators propose expanding funding for Special Olympics, Best Buddies

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | MARCH 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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Alyssa Cunningham and Charley Adkins recalled their prom, dancing in the City High gymnasium as Justin Bieber’s “Baby” echoed in the background.

The University of Iowa Best Buddy members partnered with other local chapters to organize the prom. These opportunities and others that are available to students with intellectual disabilities could expand under proposed legislation.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, joined with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., last week to propose the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act.

“[Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s] longtime support of and commitment to the Special Olympics and Best Buddies helped millions of Americans with disabilities live their lives to the fullest,” Harkin said in a release. “The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act honors her legacy by ensuring that these programs can flourish.”

The act would renew support for Special Olympics and expand support to Best Buddies — an organization that focuses on social activities for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The legislation would appropriate $4 million for each of the next five years starting in fiscal 2014 for Best Buddies, as well as $22.5 million total for Special Olympics.

Best Buddies officials in Iowa said the funding would allow them to expand program offerings to include the citizens’ program. Currently, offered in other states, the citizens’ program offers peer-to-peer friendships for people over 30. The organization would also expand middle-school programming. Both programs would help them reach their ultimate goal of a presence in all 99 counties.

“As they hit age 21, a lot of their support drops off, and they end up getting in group homes and disconnected from people,” said John Kliegel, a Best Buddies Iowa volunteer who lobbied for the act in Washington, D.C.

Kliegel said the act would increase the name recognition for Best Buddies, which is not as widely known as Special Olympics. Shriver founded Special Olympics and was a longtime supporter of Best Buddies, which was founded by her son Anthony.

David Kessler, a member of the UI Best Buddies chapter, said the program offered a chance to build relationships with people he would work with in the future, given that he is a speech and hearing-science major. Although he has only spent one semester in the program, Kessler’s time with his buddy Drew has had an effect on him.

“You learn so much from this experience by learning about someone’s life,” he said.

An official with UI Realizing Educational and Career Hopes said the organization supports the bill and believes there is room for more programs for older people who are intellectually or developmentally disabled. REACH is a certificate program that also helps students become more independent by living the campus experience.

“We feel there is a room for more participation to be offered by communities across the nation,” said Associate Director Rori Carson. “There are programs, but they are not nearly as organized or supported by government officials.”


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