Buddy Up For Life Helps Individuals with Down Syndrome Across the US
As New Albany has progressed over the past 15 years, the non-profit, Buddy Up For
Life, has progressed with it. It was founded in 2008 by Beth Gibson, a recent mother of a young
child with Down Syndrome. Beth has been in New Albany since 1997 and headquartered at
Innovate New Albany since 2018.
To start, Beth’s son, Will, wanted to play tennis at 3 years old, but there was a lack of
resources to teach kids like Will tennis. Mrs. Gibson recognized the need for increased service to
individuals with down syndrome and decided to found Buddy Up, a program designed to
accommodate each child with a Buddy to teach them tennis. Finally, Buddy Up’s mission is not
only to create healthy and fit lifestyles but also to foster friendships and independent, fulfilling
Fast forward to present day, Buddy Up has grown tremendously, with 3 pillars; Health and Wellness, Friendship, and Independence.
Health and Wellness was the initial pillar of Buddy Up and as a result, the tennis sector
now has over 25 chapters nationwide. Health and Wellness also includes Buddy Up Fitness and
recently, Buddy Up Pickleball. Also important to mention in the Health and Wellness pillar is
that each participating athlete has volunteer (a Buddy) to guide them through the programs. This
Buddy system allows not only for more productive instruction, but also, a connection and
friendship that benefits the athletes and volunteers both.
In terms of the Friendship pillar, Buddy Up has a summer camp that although hindered
by the pandemic, has allowed for great memories and growth for the athletes.
Lastly, there is the Independence Pillar. Although the most recently founded pillar of
Buddy Up, it is one of the most beneficial. This independence pillar is life skills based and as the
name suggests, allows for individuals with Down Syndrome to live an independent and fulfilling
life. The life skills include a a focus on communication skills, a cooking course, a personal
finance course, a technology based course and lastly, a safety course. These skills are taught by
accredited teachers who are able to teach the skills at any level, no matter the age group, and
varying learning styles of children with Down Syndrome.
At the end of the day, Innovate New Albany is a business incubator, so what is a
non-profit organization like Buddy Up doing here? It was made it clear that although Buddy Up
is a non-profit, the day-to-day operations are still focused on a business first mentality. This
means managerial styles are still important, sustainability is huge, and having “bench strength”
in operations of Buddy Up are important. Non-profit organizations still need to be on top of their
expenses, consistent branding and marketing is important, and the programs still need to grow
and improve each year. All of this to say, the business advantages offered by Innovate are still
beneficial to non-profits such as Buddy Up.
Buddy Up has 25 tennis chapters nationwide, a large number that covers a truly large part
of the country. In terms of expansion, the tennis chapters will be capped at thirty while they
would like to fitness sector to double in size. They see tremendous growth potential in the
pickleball “market” while the life skills chapters still need a few years before scaling is possible.
Volunteering is a huge part of Buddy Up, and it gains its volunteers through sharing its
opportunities in the community, primarily through schools, partnering with Ohio State
University’s speech and hearing department, and using those same strategies nationwide.
All of this started because Will wanted to learn tennis. In Mrs. Gibson’s words, Buddy
Up has “exceeded expectations” and from the small, one-coach, tennis organization it once was,
it now has changed lives throughout the country. Buddy Up is different because it is personal to
each participant, including Mrs. Gibson, with everything stemming from Will. The retention rate
is huge and families have come back many times over. Despite this, there is still room to grow,
and to further help Down Syndrome individuals in every aspect of their lives. Buddy Up is a
great program and could not be run by a better group, it has helped the lives of many individuals,
families, and volunteers alike.
The goal of Buddy Up for Life is to redefine the social, economic, psychological, and
physical expectations set for those who live with Down syndrome by providing their athletes the
tools and mindset to live their life to the fullest- that’s why they do what they do. If you would
like to learn more about Buddy Up For Life, Inc. and how you can make an impact, please visit
their website at BuddyUpforLife.org or email Beth at Beth@BUforLife.org.
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