You won’t see a ton of pictures of well-dressed people smiling for the camera. You won’t even see too many pictures of the world-class food, but what you will see are pictures of buddies, Best Buddies to be exact.
This past week, Best Buddies, an organization offering friendships and job opportunities to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, hosted Taste Buds, an event that paired Pittsburgh’s top chefs with members of Best Buddies in order to create special dishes for attendees.
The event was held at The Rivers Casino in the North Shore, and welcomed dishes and desserts from a wide variety of restaurants, as well as live music, and a raffle.
The stage floor was packed as people shuffled through each station to sample dishes like Kevin Sousa and Teresa Punkett’s beef short rib, but the real magic was in the face of each team member. As I strolled along the floor, I saw one Best Buddy member (Julia Kaluzny) dancing beside her chef (Dominique Metcalfe).
Eventually Kaluzny ended up in the middle of the floor, cutting-a-rug with another chef.
As I continued to meet and greet, I came across several people who praised the organization for their mission to promote friendships and opportunities. One of the Best Buddies’ moms told me that her son had been bullied his whole life, until Best Buddies offered him unconditional friendship with zero strings attached.
While people with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not operate the same, according to conventional standards, they surely feel the same, and are affected by discrimination and harassment.
“He’s finally happy”, she said.
As I held together my composure, the meaning of Taste Buds became very evident. At the molecular level, Best Buddies gives hope to people who often feel alone and ostracized from our everyday grind. We’re always on the move, not paying attention to anything (or anyone) that doesn’t directly affect our lives; we’re severely advanced, but painfully myopic.
For most of us, we attend events with great food and free drinks once a week. We become accustomed to flaunted socialization and numb to the cause. We say hello, shake hands, give hugs, grab a drink, and then go home and wait for the next one.
However, Taste Buds, was “The Event” for many participants. They took pride in serving and being part of something in where they felt relevant and appreciated for what they did, and not because they’re different. We’re often programmed to think of people with disabilities as unfortunate beings, but as I observed the pure elation on their faces, I quickly realized they’re completely free, and loving life.
It’s because of safe-haven organizations like Best Buddies that people with disabilities can grow the confidence to step out and take on the world in a positive light. Shout out to the chefs who not only put on an absolutely stunning culinary array of food options, but made this one of the most memorable moments for Best Buddies participants in 2016.
Photos by Julie Kahlbaugh