Glen Rock native Holly Goshin and Vallye Adams are looking for some 'Best Buddies'.

The two have paired-up to raise funds with the goal of opening a Best Buddies International office at a soon-to-be determined location in Bergen County.

“The need in New Jersey is tremendous,” said Adams. “I’m predicting there will be a second office and location right now we could use.”

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Glen Rock will be the first school in Bergen County, with a chapter scheduled to open by year’s end with Goshin’s 15-year-old daughter, Emma, a sophomore at Glen Rock High School, heading it up.

Best Buddies International has impacted more than 1 million people, with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), by training thousands of buddy ambassadors, developing jobs for persons with IDD and increasing the number of chapters with participating schools – all in the name of providing a better quality of life for individuals with such disabilities.

Best Buddies currently operates accredited programs in more than 50 countries throughout the globe from Brazil to Northern Ireland. Six years ago, the volunteer-run organization established a goal to open offices in all 50 states in America, expand into 100 countries impacting all stakeholders by the completion of 2020.

The initiative, according to Adams, has provided a balanced reciprocity, as volunteers equally benefit knowing they’ve made a contribution toward the cause.

On Nov. 3,Goshen and Adams are spearheading an inaugural gala to be held at the Brownstone in Paterson. The theme: Champion of the Year.

The two grew up around people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Now, the duo, who work for the world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to affording opportunities for leadership, employment and friendship for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), are on a mission to give back to those individuals.

Adams noted the autism population in New Jersey is 1 in 41, compared to the national average of 1 in 68. Aside from autism spectrum disorders, Best Buddies also covers other intellectual disabilities, including persons with cerebral palsy, Prader-Willi syndrome and traumatic brain injuries, among others.

The organization was founded in 1989 when Anthony Shriver observed that people with IDD had lacked meaningful social ties with their peers without disabilities. According to a news release, Shriver believes self-esteem is founded upon not only positive self-talk, but companionship as the ingredient to live a happy and productive life.

Currently, the organization he fondly christened “Best Buddies”, offers the following eight programs: middle and high schools, colleges, citizens, e-Buddies, jobs, ambassadors and promoters with over 2,300 chapters around the world.

It is Goshin and Adams’ hope to open New Jersey’s first chapter in Bergen County, and the demand for such an office has been astounding, they said.

“Because the need is so great,” according to Adams, the director of expansion, she receives on average of two calls per week at the Miami headquarters for an office in the Garden State.

Getting involved is personal

The women’s personal ties to the organization dates back to their college years.

For Goshin, a Glen Rock resident with children in the district, it was a chance encounter at American University in Washington, D.C.

After college, a desire to work in the nonprofit sector and help the special needs population drove her to secure a job at the international offices of the Special Olympics in 1994 right around the time Best Buddies had started its regional presence at the Nation’s Capital.

Goshin, who is the director of the nonprofit’s leadership academy, has an older brother – now in his 50s – who suffered a traumatic brain injury during birth and needed long term care at an intermediate care facility in Massachusetts. Since then, Goshin developed a passion to aid people in living better lives.

“I didn’t grow up with him,” said Goshin. “I feel like I missed out in a relationship the way our culture and society had not evolved, yet it always inspired me to somehow want to help that issue [of] integration.”

During Adams' years in college, she met a brother and sister with Down syndrome through a friend. She has relatives with IDD, as well.

“I’ve always been drawn to promoting that mission of friendship and inclusion and wanting to make a difference and change the world for them so they’re integrated into society.”

Adams has work for 25 years with the nonprofit, and just recently began her role as director of expansion. At the Year of the Champion gala next month, which will start at 7 p.m. at the Brownstone in Paterson, and will include dinner, dancing and live and silent auctions among other festivities, the women are hoping to raise their target of $250,000 needed to cut the ribbon to a Best Buddies office in New Jersey.

Fourteen individuals are champions of Best Buddies’ mission and nominated by the Advisory Board in New Jersey. One will be crowned the grand champion at the event for raising the most funds. These champions, some of whom include employees of large corporations and staff members of Best Buddies, have aimed to raise $5,000 prior to the event in order to help Best Buddies reach their goal.

“The great thing about Best Buddies is that not only does it change the life, family, community and the school of an individual with an IDD, it also changes those without IDD,” Adams said. "So the way Best Buddies works is a mutually beneficial relationship established with IDD and without. The positive changes are seen in both realms where not only are we creating leaders, friends and employees in participants with a disability, but we are creating future advocates of those with a disability.”

According to Adams, there are about 350 students in New Jersey who are active members. As of late, there are five participating schools in New Jersey. They include Mount Olive High School in Flanders, Ocean City High School in Ocean City, Princeton University, the College of New Jersey in Ewing, and Warren Hills Regional High School in Washington.

Glen Rock will be the first school in Bergen County, with a chapter scheduled to open by year’s end with Goshin’s 15-year-old daughter, Emma, a sophomore at Glen Rock High School, heading it up.

“You can talk with their friends, family and feel and hear and see firsthand the [impact] it has made in their life student without a disability has come up to me and said I joined because I wanted to make a difference in the life of a disabled [person and] they’ve made a difference in my life,” said Adams of the positive impact experienced by the volunteers. “They are able to recognize the fact that because someone has a disability, [and] looks different, walks different or thinks different or acts differently that most of society is afraid of that.” She continued, “for society the entire population of IDD have been shunned not to be seen or heard from. With Best Buddies, that population is corrected. We’re showing the world that individuals with IDD make amazing friends, they make excellent employees that can be leaders in the community just like you and I know.”

It brings joy to Goshin that the cycle of good is coming full circle with her kin. Her reaction to her daughter’s involvement?

“It couldn’t be more poetic,” she said with a laugh. “The fact that I have a 15-year-old is crazy enough, and on top of that, I remember working with Best Buddies as early a 20-something. All this time later opening a chapter it speaks of the strength and magic of the mission. To me it’s astounding and I couldn’t be happier.”

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