They were made to feel like celebrities the moment they stepped out of their car. It was all there — paparazzi, ball gowns, vibrant music, fancy finger foods, etc.
The red carpet was literally rolled out for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for the annual Best Buddies Ball on Friday, March 1.
Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization with a mission to create one-on-one meaningful relationships with a high school- or college-aged student and a person with disabilities. Every chapter from Utah, including 11 high schools and four colleges, gathered together at Xango headquarters in Lehi to dance and celebrate. Almost 300 Best Buddies members attended, all with a common goal of making those with disabilities feel like stars for the night.
The Best Buddies Ball tradition started in 2010 and has been a highlight for members for the past four years. Generous donations from groups such as Xango, local church youth groups, high school and college students and organizations such as the Red Hat Ladies support the ball.
Dave Webb, vice president of communications at Xango, said Best Buddies leadership originally wanted an event where the people with disabilities could dress up, go out and feel special for a night. However, they knew it would be costly and did not want to have to charge an entrance fee.
That is when the leaders of Xango stepped in and offered their resources, and the Best Buddies Ball has been an annual hit ever since. Webb said the company has always been a supporter of Best Buddies and its mission. The Best Buddies Ball is one of his favorite parts of his job.
“It has been one of those things where you pick up from their spirit, their energy and their atmostphere and it becomes one of the best parts of your job,” Webb said. “Even though we all worked a full day today, we had volunteers who stayed just because it is fun to hang out with the Buddies.”
The local chapters host two events monthly, but the ball is always the highlight of the year. Webb attributes some of the excitement to the timing.
“It happens to come right after the Grammys and Oscars, and they see all these celebrities who are dressed up and pictures are being taken. They get that experience, and it lets them feel like they should all the time,” Webb said.
Julie Arthur, the state director for Best Buddies Utah, agreed that the ball is the highlight of the year for the disabled people. Since she started in October she found that all the Buddies would talk about was “The Ball.” Arthur said has a special place in her heart for this program because she has a daughter with Down syndrome. She loves the opportunity it provides for high school and college students to interact with and learn from the disabled.
“I love to watch the kids interacting together. As a parent with a child with a disability it is so important to me that typical students understand that kids with disabilities need friendship, socialization, jobs, love and social support to reach their goals in life,” Arthur said.
Along with the many volunteers who make these events happen, Miss Teen Utah USA and Miss Utah USA were there, crown, sash and all, taking pictures and making the Buddies feel important. Khloe Krump, the reigning Miss Teen Utah USA, supports everything Best Buddies does.
“I have some good friends who have disabilities, and it is always nice when you reach out and show them they are loved and equal. Everyone is just here to have a good time, and that’s what this organization is doing,” Krump said.
BYU’s Best Buddies chapter is the largest in the nation. It has three program directors, including Anneliese Meacham, a communications disorder major from Mesa, Ariz. Meacham looks forward to the event because she loves to see all “the buddies” dressed up, smiling, dancing and socializing with friends. She says she loves how they get to be “a star for the night.” Meacham has been involved with Best Buddies for three years and said it provides her with favorite college memories.
“This program has been one of the ways I have the most fun in college and experience the most joy. It means a lot to me, and it’s fun to see such great people serving each other and having fun together. The most amazing part to me (is) to see how much love there is,” Meacham said.
Meacham said being involved with this program has changed the way she views disabled people and that she has realized they need all the same things a typical college student does. For Angie Quiroz, an ambassador for BYU and Best Buddies of Utah, that is the exact message she tries to send. Quiroz has been diagnosed with Williams syndrome but is one of the most outgoing, social and positive members of Best Buddies. Quiroz looks forward to the ball all year because of the love she feels there.
“The special thing is that you come out here and see friends and (are) able to have those relationships. I think it’s so special that Best Buddies is so, so productive of treating people with disabilities with love and respect,” Quiroz said.
Friday night, the room was filled with smiling faces, dancing feet, love and service. Webb said the ball is a night for positivity and joy.
“It is the selfless night,” Webb said. “Nobody is trying to one-up somebody; the competition of business doesn’t matter tonight. We are here having fun with these kids. I love that I get to be involved with them. I’m not doing anything for them; they are doing everything for me.”
Arthur encourages anyone who is looking for a great opportunity to join Best Buddies because of the way it impacts everybody involved.
“It will change your life,” Arthur said. “I hope that as the college Buddies go through the college experience they take that out into the community and into the work force to advocate for people with disabilities. They want to have everything you and I have out of life.”