Kennedy's - Best Buddies and iCons

In his 1961 inaugural address, President Kennedy implored Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That same year, he founded the Peace Corps which, over the last four-plus decades, has supplied 190,000 volunteers to 139 host countries. Peace Corps volunteers work on projects that range from health and economic development initiatives to AIDS education and environmental preservation.

While the Kennedys have always encouraged service abroad, they’ve also demonstrated public service and charity at home: Within the late President’s own family, one brother served as U.S. Attorney General; another has been a United States Senator since 1962. One of the President sisters started the Special Olympics, which one son now runs, while a daughter serves as First Lady of California. Still another Kennedy served as ambassador to Ireland and founded Very Special Arts, a non-profit that nurtures the artistic talents of children who are mentally and/or physically disabled.

In the following pages, we meet two members of the current generation of Kennedys who are continuing the family legacy of service:

Anthony Kennedy Shriver is the founder of Best Buddies, an international non-profit organization which enhances the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for friendships and employment. His cousin, William Kennedy Smith, MD, helms iCons, an organization that links a worldwide group of physicians and patients through the internet.

Clearly, the clarion call to public service that President Kennedy issued over 40 years ago still resounds.

Best Buddies

Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering one-on-one friendships between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Here ABILITY’s Chet Cooper speaks with Shriver about the worldwide growth of Best Buddies, including successful initiatives and expansion into the Middle East.

Shriver: The great thing about Best Buddies is there’s something for everybody. You can be a volunteer in some shape, form or fashion, whether you’re volunteering to get your kids involved, whether your son or daughter is involved in their school program, whether you want to be a mentor yourself as an adult, whether you want to get an online Buddy, whether you’re an employer and want to hire someone with a disability to work in your office—if you’ve got any sense of motivation and determination and want to give back, there’s a role for you at Best Buddies, which I think is pretty unique. Even in Special Olympics, for most people, you can be a coach or a spectator, but you’re not going to run the 50-yard dash. In Best Buddies, you’re running the 50-yard dash with your Buddy. People get a different level of experience by participating, as opposed to writing a check, though that’s important, too. But beyond writing checks, we need people to get involved and give their time.

Cooper: We did an article about you years and years ago. Tell me about how your program’s expanded.

Shriver: There are about 220 people who work for Best Buddies in all 50 states now, and another 100 people outside the U.S. in 41 countries. Our budget’s over $20 million. We run six different divisions. We’ve got a middle school program, high schools, colleges. We have an adult-based program called Best Buddies Citizens. We have an online program called eBuddies. We have our jobs program, which I think we had when I talked to you guys before. Our support-employ program is now in a few different cities in Florida, Massachusettes and California, and we’re trying to expand to other states. We’re actually just launching that in Poland as well.

The economy’s tough, but thank God we’ve got an international, worldwide organization, where we’ve got lots of different streams of revenue coming in from all over the world, so we’re not as dependent on the state of the U.S. market.

Cooper: Did you ever picture it growing into what it’s become today?

Shriver: I’m not great at thinking what’s going to happen five, 10 years down the road. I just keep my head down and keep working hard toward what I think is right for Best Buddies. It leads me wherever it leads me. We are pleased with where we are today, but we still have huge work to do. There are five million people with intellectual disabilities in the U.S. alone. They say there’s 40 to 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S., and close to 200 million worldwide with intellectual disabilities, so the population’s huge, and we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg. It’s exciting and rewarding, but it’s a daunting task.

This year, I spent time in Russia, Turkey, Poland, the Middle East and Spain. People all over the world are dealing with intellectual disabilities that pose incredible challenges; the need is so enormous. There’s a great opportunity to make a difference, so I’m grateful for that. But it keeps you on a treadmill all the time, that’s for sure.

Cooper: Tell me about what’s happening with your gala.

Shriver: It’s going to be the biggest ball we’ve ever held. We’ll probably raise more than $3 million in one night, so we’re way ahead of where we’ve been in the past. We’re honoring Sheikha Moza, the first lady of Qatar. We’re giving her a Spirit of Leadership Award. We’re doing a lot of good things with Qatar, and programs that benefit people with disabilities are expanding in that country. We want to raise awareness about her highness’s work, not only in Qatar but in the Middle East as a whole. We hope that her leadership will inspire other people in her position—either with her wealth or influence— to make a difference. I met the Emir, Sheikh Hamad as well, talked to him and had dinner with him. He also seems very interested in getting other people to follow their lead in terms of educating and providing opportunities for people with disabilities in that part of the world, and in the world at large. That’s a huge goal.

The ball will also commemorate 20 years of holding this event at my parents’ home. It’s pretty unusual for an event like this to take place at a private home on this scale for 20 years straight. I think it’s a huge accomplishment that the organization has been able to make that happen, and keep the event engaging, motivating and inspiring enough for people to come back year after year. We have people who have been coming for 20 years. That means a lot to us. We’ve got additional support as a result of this event being our 20th anniversary. We’re going to have a great, diverse group from all walks of the world, and great representation from the Middle East. We’ve got some Buddy pairs coming from Qatar who are going to speak. We just relocated two people from the national office here to live in Qatar. I look forward to expanding to other countries in the Middle East with the guidance and support of the disability communities in those country.... continued in ABILITY Magazine


Globe-trotting William K. Smith, MD, founded the Center for International Rehabilitation, formerly known as Physicians Against Land Mines. The latter was co-recipient of a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. These days, Smith also heads up iCons, an umbrella organization for a worldwide group of physicians linked to each other and to patients throught the internet. Dr. Smith recently spoke with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper, and Thomas Chappell, MD, the magazine’s managing health editor.

Chet Cooper: We’ve met.

Dr. William K. Smith: At the UN, right?

Cooper: Yes, there and the World Bank— during their conference on disabilities. I think I met Eunice Kennedy as well that day.

Smith: There are a lot of people in my family running around. (laughter) A number of us work on disability issues. (Smith’s mother, Jean Kennedy Smith, founded Very Special Arts, “to create a society where all people with disabilities learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts.”)

Cooper: How did you get involved with iCons?

Smith: I have a cousin who lost a leg to osteosarcoma when he was fairly young. After completing my residency at Northwestern— I’m a physiatrist by training—I then trained as a prosthetist. After medical school, I spent time overseas with the International Medical Corps in Somalia, where I got a lot of exposure to people with land mine injuries. I became interested in amputee care and looked into it.

In 1996, I started Physicians Against Land Mines. Later, Princess Diana got involved and the issue picked up a lot of momentum for a while. We started the Center for International Rehabilitation in Chicago to work on mobility aids for those with land mine injuries, and other people with disabilities in conflict and post-conflict areas. Then, in ‘98, we started the first distance learning course on prosthetics in Latin America, working with clinics that served those wounded in war. Later, we expanded that program to the Balkans.

Dr. Thomas Chappell: You’ve also worked with Iraqi physicians?

Smith: This past year, we completed training for about 110 Iraqi health professionals, including physical therapists, hospital administrators and hospital-based physicians. Through the Iraqi Ministry of Health—funded by the World Bank—we engaged the University Clinical Center in Tuzla, our partner program in Bosnia. The Iraqis were flown there and received two to six weeks of training, which they took back to Iraq.

So I’ve been heavily involved in disability issues and training issues in conflict and post-conflict areas for about 12 years.

Cooper: You’ve used the internet in a very engaging way.

Smith: One of our board members, Ken Rutherford, is a land mine survivor. He did his PhD thesis on how the internet, as a low-cost tool to connect people, was crucial in the formation of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. This is rather remarkable because it really wasn’t used nearly as much as 10 years ago. We rely on it extensively for education and training purposes now with our distance learning programs, and in our most recent initiative to connect doctors around clinical consultation.

This helps doctors in remote and/or medically underserved areas, such as post-conflict areas, where people tend to have poor access to specialty care. This could also be physicians on the Indian reservations in the U.S., or in inner-city areas that are underserved. So we’re trying to connect many of the physicians.

Partner organizations such as the National Arab American Medical Association, the Iraqi Medical Science Association and the Chicago Medical Society are banding together to create a volunteer international workforce to help local physicians in Iraq, the Middle East and other countries deal with the huge humanitarian crises they face.

Cooper: You’ve done a lot.

Smith: I’ll mention just briefly the other big initiative that we’ve worked on: The Convention on Disability Rights, which the United Nations recently passed into international law.

Cooper: It was actually your organization that was key in helping put together some of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) meetings. I attended a few of them.

Smith: We were on the steering committee for the International Disability Caucus (IDC). We also pulled together the International Disability Rights Monitor, once again using the internet to help us. The monitor involves a research network of about 55 countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe, where we produce regional reports on disability rights. We give micro-grants to a country’s researchers to produce the reports, and we train them how to write the reports.

That’s all been under the UN standard rules for the equalization of opportunity for people with disabilities. As you know, that has now been eclipsed by the Convention, which has the force of international law. So we’re in the process of updating our shadow monitoring and research methodology to reflect the protocols of the Convention.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Robert Patrick issue include Headlines — Voting Gains; Help with Medicare; Humor — Run for Office? Run the Other Way!; Green Pages — Water by Computer, Solar Flashlight; DRLC — Make Polling Places Accessible For All; Best Practices — HP & Boeing; Anita Kaiser — Finding Innovative Ways to Mother; JR Martinez — Soldiering On; Managing Pain — Ear Aches, Tooth Aches; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

Vol 2008 Oct/Nov

More excerpts from the Robert Patrick issue:

Robert Patrick -- Interview

Kennedy Legacy — Anthony Kennedy Shriver - Best Buddies; William Kennedy Smith, MD - iCons

Asst. Secretary of Labor — ‘Everybody Needs to Work’

Meredith Eaton — From Therapist to Actress

The Scent of Cancer

JR Martinez — Soldiering On

Best Practices — HP & Boeing

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