Three years ago, Susan Zimmermann ’88 received an invitation from classmate Amy Lumbard Holbrook ’88 to participate in a Massachusetts cycling trek fundraiser for Best Buddies International, a nonprofit that fosters one-to-one friendships, employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Although she detests biking, Zimmermann borrowed a neighbor’s cycle, joined Holbrook’s Audi Best Buddies Challenge team for the 20-mile route on Cape Cod—and came away inspired to improve lives.
A Concord, N.H., resident and mother of a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, Zimmermann co-chairs a board that is seeking to expand Best Buddies International in her home state.
Founded by Kennedy cousin Anthony Shriver in 1989, Best Buddies has programs that pair disabled youngsters with middle school, high school, and college volunteers in about 1,500 schools worldwide, including through a chapter at Colby. But only three are in New Hampshire. By leading a $250,000 fundraising campaign, Zimmermann and her fellow board members are striving to open a Best Buddies New Hampshire office that would launch chapters in schools statewide.
Although Zimmermann’s son, Oliver Laidlaw, motivated her to expand an organization that combats the social isolation many disabled youngsters experience, another Colby classmate was instrumental in introducing Zimmermann to Best Buddies. After informing family and friends in 2001 that Oliver would be born with Down syndrome, Zimmermann received a call from Mark Wylie ’88, who worked at the nonprofit’s Miami headquarters. “He said to me, ‘I hear you’re having a buddy,’” Zimmermann recalled. “He was so happy for me, and I so needed that at that moment.”
Wylie later helped make the connections that led to a Best Buddies New Hampshire board.
“I think Best Buddies will benefit kids like Oliver tremendously,” Zimmermann said. “But I also think it’s great for the typical kids involved in the program. There’s a lot of fear sometimes around kids who have disabilities, and this just totally minimizes that. You see how normal they really are.”
In February, Zimmermann met with members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation in Washington to advocate legislation supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities as part of Capitol Hill Day, an annual collaboration between Best Buddies International and Special Olympics.
“She’s paving the way for her child and making sure that his future is all-inclusive,” Wylie said. “She’s not just letting things happen as they may come, but she’s actually going out there and doing something about it, which I think is an amazing thing.”
For more on Best Buddies New Hampshire, visit bestbuddies.org/newhampshire.