GMU graduate’s experience in Best Buddies programs
Alexander Bolden appreciates creating a family out of friends and has done that during his six years in the Best Buddies programs. The Best Buddies organization creates enriching programs for individuals with disabilities. Their programs are built on the pillars of work, living, friendship, and leadership.
Bolden’s attention began with the Best Buddies friendship program when he started at George Mason University (GMU) in 2016. He joined the program and was matched with a peer as a freshman. At the time he thought, “I get to be myself around that guy [and] have that brotherhood or sisterhood.”
When he lost his job at the GMU recreation facility, with encouragement from his personal community, Bolden sought out help from the Best Buddies jobs program. An assigned job coach worked with him on identifying his options. Bolden kept an eye out for available work and found it at his usual post-workout spot–Smoothie King.
The experience with Best Buddies is tailored to each individual’s needs and strengths. Bolden had a diverse resume before he went to the job program for help, but his job coach supported him with motivation and direction.
He had the initiative to immediately apply and his job coach accompanied him to the interview–which proved to be a success. He now works in customer service at Smoothie King.
“That’s what I do, I love customers,” he said.
“Everyone from the jobs program does a great job of helping so many people with disabilities find meaningful employment. There are so many words to describe [Best Buddies]. They’re reliable [and] know what they’re doing. They have amazing red capes, like Superman,” he said.
Since graduating from GMU, Bolden remains active with Best Buddies. He was introduced to his current peer buddy, Alex S., and they’ve been going to movies and the gym together ever since.
Bolden built a brotherhood with Alex that will stand despite Alex’s upcoming move to New York.
“We’re family now,” Bolden said. “They’re more than just my friends,” Bolden said about all of the people he met through Best Buddies–from job coaches to peers. Everyone in the organization will “set the bar higher for any expectations and they want you to fulfill that,” he said.
“Best Buddies will push you–not physically–when you know that you can do something that will have you succeed in so many things,” said Bolden.
Bolden has seen how the Best Buddies organization actively follows through on the mission they live by. His experience, plus his passion for interaction, has led him to the ambassador program as part of Best Buddies’ leadership pillar.
He explained that being an ambassador is all about sharing your personal story and bringing what’s internal to the surface. “Thanks to the ambassadors, I got selected and might be talking at the Best Buddies Friendship Walk in D.C. at the mall,” Bolden said.
“I can see a big future for Best Buddies,” he said. The Best Buddies community and their presence in public spaces “shows how much Best Buddies has affected everyone else’s life.”
“[Having] a disability does not mean that we’re useless. We want to try things,” Bolden emphasized. He has an apartment in town, spends as much time outdoors as possible, and has competed with U.S. Masters Rowing, but Bolden’s aspirations don’t end there.
Bolden has his sights set on the way things can and have come together to merge. This is especially important to him when it comes to areas where people stand divided, such as with race and disability. On those topics, he wants to “have [conversations] about the best way to talk about it,” he said; that way, anyone can be family.