PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — ‘Best Buddies Oregon‘ turns to virtual hangouts to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) stay connected while staying safe, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Individuals with disabilities often experience isolation in their regular life … so Best Buddies really provides opportunities for those one-to-one friendships,” director of mission advancement for Best Buddies Oregon, Kelly Toepperwein said.

Best Buddies is an international non-profit that promotes inclusion and friendships for people with IDD. Toepperwein and board chair, Mary Ventura run ‘Best Buddies Oregon” and helped launch its ‘Citizens Program‘– which matches adults with IDD with a peer buddy from the community. Toepperwein says before the pandemic ‘buddies’ would be able to meet monthly in-person, but like nearly everything these days, the organization has had to pivot and go virtual.

“We had done some monthly hangouts prior to COVID-19, and once COVID-19 hit our monthly gatherings we’re obviously impacted,” Ventura said. “It took us a couple of months but we moved online.”

The Citizen’s program now provides buddies with the opportunity to connect via Zoom online, every Friday. From scavenger hunts to themed virtual hangouts, Ventura says going digital also gives the organization the opportunity to extend its reach statewide.

“Now getting to see a lot of my friends is helping me a lot,” Best Buddies Oregon ambassador, Logan Stromberg said.

Stromberg has been a Best Buddies Oregon board member since 2018, and says he never misses an opportunity to connect with his buddy, Nicole. He lost his job due to COVID-19 and adds that with social distancing, it’s been tough not to be able to meet with friends in-person. Stromberg says being able to join in on the weekly virtual hangouts gives him something to look forward to.

“I’ve been looking for work tirelessly and now I realize that every Friday I don’t have to worry about that. I just have to jump on a meeting and just have fun. It’s encouraging,” Stromberg said. “This is a way for us to communicate all together in a difficult time like this.”

Best Buddies Oregon hopes to expand the virtual hangouts to support its school chapters. To learn more about the organization, click here.