SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) — Growing up, Madison Woosley always enjoyed spending time with her Great Uncle Bill, who had Down Syndrome.
After he passed away, Woosley sought out ways to volunteer with people with disabilities but struggled to find an organization in Springfield that allowed her to do so.
"It wasn't until I started looking, I realized there wasn't a lot of things to do in Springfield working with individuals who had disabilities," said Woosley. "I remembered in college there was an organization called Best Buddies, so I submitted an application and Best Buddies got back to me and they're like, 'well, actually, there isn't one in Springfield, but you can start one.'"
Woosley met with Sparc, a non-profit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They agreed to partner with Woosley to facilitate a new chapter of Best Buddies.
"It offers an opportunity for the individuals that we support to build natural friendships," said Denise Schainker, the Director of Development at Sparc. "They are surrounded by paid staff all the time and for them to be able, on their level, to slowly build friendships that are naturally built, gives them a support that we can't offer. But definitely our community can."
The group had their first meeting a few weeks ago and 40 participants with Sparc attended. Right now, Woosley is looking for more volunteers to participate in one on one partnerships through the program.
"I got goosebumps seeing the reactions from the individuals through Sparc and it honestly just made my heart so happy seeing those individuals from Sparc have those friends," said Woosley.
Best Buddies runs a variety of programs, from elementary school chapters, all the way to adult programming. The citizens program, which is what Woosley started, focuses on adults. There are only 11 in the state, and Springfield is the only location in Central Illinois.
Rebecca Impens is the Director of Communications and Stewardship for the state of Illinois Best Buddies Chapter. She says these programs make a big impact in their communities.
"They're very genuine friends and they were connected through this," said Impens. "That's the goal. Just know that it's not inclusion to look good, it's inclusion because they genuinely want them included, and they love them, and they are friends. And people get so much confidence because of that."
If you are interested in joining the Springfield Chapter of Best Buddies, you can apply at BestBuddies.org/join and select the Springfield Chapter. You can also reach out to email@example.com with questions.
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