Student campaigns for Best Buddies Champion of the Year
Best Buddies has impacted millions of people around the world since 1989, but one Franklin College student is using her passion and leadership to further expand that impact throughout Indiana.
Sophomore Mariah Weddle is one of seven people vying for the title of Indiana’s Best Buddies Champion of the Year. Participants, known as “champions,” must organize their own fundraising events throughout the course of the campaign. The champion who raises the most funds for Best Buddies Indiana is named “Champion of the Year.”
Weddle, this year’s youngest participant, has raised $3,197 for Best Buddies since joining the fundraiser in September. That money will go towards building one-to-one friendships and providing integrated employment for people with disabilities.
“‘Champion of the Year’ started for me because someone nominated me, and then I decided that I wanted to do it,” Weddle said. “I went to one of the training days, and then I got so involved that I kept fundraising. I mean, it’s not really a competition, but I’m really competitive, so a lot of people are kind of competing to raise the most money for Best Buddies.”
Weddle has been involved in Best Buddies since her freshman year at Franklin College, and she currently serves as the vice president of the chapter. She is also involved in INSPIRE, a program designed for students with intellectual disabilities to promote vocational and employment skills, as well as Live Laugh Dance, Camp Can Do and Special Olympics.
But Weddle’s passion for helping others didn’t start in college.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always tried helping others,” she said. “My mom calls it a ‘servant heart.’”
Weddle attended Edinburgh Community High School, which didn’t offer a Best Buddies program. Regardless, she still helped out with special education students. Weddle said they were the reason she became so involved with Best Buddies and other programs in college.
“When I was in middle school, there was this girl that had autism,” Weddle said. “She just really took a liking to me, I guess, because I would be the one who would always talk to her and make her feel included in everything. Then in high school, there was this guy named Bobby, and he has Down syndrome. Everybody knew that we were just best friends.”
Since joining Best Buddies in 2016, Weddle has been paired with J.J. Kubancsek as her buddy. Senior Sadie Stokes, former Best Buddies president and the chapter’s current treasurer, said Weddle and Kubancsek are a “really good match.”
“She’s really involved with him; she’s really involved in Best Buddies and all the other organizations she does. She’s very passionate,” Stokes said. “I think her buddy pair has helped strengthened her to be able to do this campaign.”
Weddle is dedicating her future career to nonprofit leadership—a path that has become extremely relevant through her time with Best Buddies. She said she potentially wants to run a Best Buddies chapter one day.
“I always knew I liked to plan things and fundraise, but after this ‘Champion of the Year’ fundraiser, it has shown me that I really want to go in that direction and lead a nonprofit organization,” she said.
The campaign runs until Nov. 9. Weddle has organized multiple events in an effort to raise the most money for the Indiana chapter, holding two dine-to-donate events at local restaurants, a Mary Kay fundraiser, a costume party and basketball tournament.
Her upcoming bowling tournament is scheduled for Nov. 5 at Hi-Way Lanes in Franklin from 2-4 p.m. Donations to Weddle’s campaign can also be made on her online profile at bestbuddieschampion.org/indiana.
“I have always had a love for spending time with people with special needs, but Best Buddies has given me even more opportunities to do that. I love the friendships that I have grown with all of the buddies. I also enjoy planning and coordinating Best Buddy activities that are going to enrich their lives and mine.”