Published: March 21, 2024 By

Growing up in Issaquah, Washington, Zoe Parsons was the quintessential social butterfly. Even from an early age, Zoe knew that she had a caring heart with a passion to drive change in her community through creating friendships. Wanting to be friends with everyone she encountered, Zoe found herself forming a friendship with a girl who had severe physical disabilities in elementary school, which would eventually ignite her early inclination towards inclusivity and connection. Zoe Parsons

This trait continued to manifest in high school when she joined the Stiff Club, dedicated to sharing interests and forming friendships. As her involvement quickly evolved from participation to a leadership role, she made the decision to step away from figure skating, a sport that had been a central part of her life since childhood. Closer to graduation, after attending her brother's hockey tournament in Colorado, Zoe made the bold choice to commit to CU, sending her across the country. After finally settling into the completely new environment Colorado had to offer, she found herself looking for that community engagement opportunity once again. After wandering around the CU involvment fair, she stumbled upon a table for Best Buddies- a nonprofit program organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Later, she would become president of the organization and let it lead her career.

The Impact of Best Buddies International

Best Buddies International stands for inclusivity and friendship in communities across the globe, with its mission to foster one-on-one friendships between individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and volunteers. This nonprofit organization, with chapters spanning from community clubs to high schools and colleges, has made a profound impact on the lives of many, promoting a culture of acceptance and understanding.

At the University of Colorado, the Best Buddies chapter embodies the organization's mission by pairing community members in Boulder who have IDD with CU students. These pairings cultivate meaningful friendships, breaking down barriers and enriching the lives of both parties. The program's influence extends beyond the individual friendships it creates, positively affecting the broader Boulder County community by fostering an environment of inclusiveness and support.

Zoe notes that the most rewarding part of Best Buddies is being paired with her buddy, Molly, who used to be the prior president's buddy before Zoe joined. Zoe and Molly's friendship has impacted personal connection in both of their lives. Molly's exuberant spirit has been a source of immense joy and reward for Zoe. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she greets everyone with the warmest hugs and maintains constant communication through texts, enriching Zoe’s and her connection. 

“Molly is a bundle of craziness, she is so amazing. I had many friendships in high school, but this is the first time that I’ve developed true connection within these organizations” 

Through her efforts, Best Buddies at CU demonstrates the profound impact of inclusivity and connection. By focusing on self-advocacy and the power of friendship, the chapter not only enhances the lives of individuals with IDD but also contributes to building a more compassionate and understanding community. The success of Best Buddies International at CU is a true testament to the organization's and Zoe’s belief that everyone deserves the opportunity for connection and social engagement, regardless of abilities.

Driving Community Impact through Entrepreneurship

Zoe’s innovation within the program stands out for injecting new life into community events, demonstrating the power of fostering engagement and excitement. Best Buddies at CU doesn't stop at creating friendships; it actively engages with the community through various events. By collaborating with local organizations and businesses, such as Color Me Mine, Zoe organizes activities that not only provide fun and creative outlets for participants but also integrate them more fully into community life. These events serve a dual purpose: they enrich the community culture and raise awareness about the importance of inclusion and the value individuals with IDD bring to society.

She organized a community basketball game that marked a departure from traditional events, offering an entirely new form of entertainment and interaction for the members of the Best Buddies Members at a CU Basketball Game program. The decision to organize such an event was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback, with many praising it as a refreshing and fun addition to the program's calendar. This event not only brought joy to the participants but also rejuvenated their enthusiasm for upcoming events.

As president, her responsibilities extend beyond mere event planning; she involves a hands-on approach to ensuring the well-being and satisfaction of members, from booking venues to serving as the main point of contact for a vast array of organizational needs. Despite a preference for holding responsibilities close, the introduction of a new role was aimed at distributing tasks more evenly. This adaptation highlights her flexible and positive leadership style, accommodating the absence of a vice president and tackling challenges like mass communication with a large membership. 

Bridging Entrepreneurship and Inclusion

Contrary to common belief, entrepreneurship and inclusion are not seperate concepts but can be intimately linked, each driving the other towards greater heights of innovation and societal impact. Zoe considers entrepreneurship as a dynamic process that continuously evolves and requires fresh strategies to grow and thrive. She emphasizes the importance of disrupting existing narratives, particularly those surrounding people with disabilities, by leveraging entrepreneurial initiatives to foster inclusivity and challenge societal stigmas. 

“Inclusion isn't always a stable thing. You always want to foster it and help it grow, and that does involve doing something new, and that does involve being an Zoe with a member at a best buddies evententrepreneur.”

At its core, the endeavor to eliminate stigma and raise awareness about disabilities is a form of entrepreneurship. It requires the same creativity, risk-taking, and disruptive thinking that characterize successful business ventures. By reimagining the role of entrepreneurship in the context of social change, this can invite us to reconsider how we can collectively contribute to a more inclusive society through innovative and entrepreneurial actions.

If you are interested in creating change through connection, please contact cubestbuddies@colorado.edu to get your start in Best Buddies at CU Boulder. 

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