TOP50STL Person of the Week: Kelly Quinn

Brian: Today we welcome Kelly Quinn who serves as the MO State Director at Best Buddies International. Kelly, welcome to the program and thank you for being with us today.

Kelly: Thanks Brian! It’s my pleasure.

Brian: For those who may not know, Best Buddies is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities or (IDD). The IDD community that Best Buddies serves includes, but is not limited to, people with Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities. Kelly, this seems like such a noble cause, which is one of the reasons I wanted to speak with you today. Can you please tell us about how you got involved with this incredible organization and what it’s like to work with people who live with IDD?

Kelly: Well, I got started with Best Buddies International in about 2015 when I was interacting with the Expansion Board Chair. Her family and I had gone to school together since 6th Grade and it was her vision for Best Buddies to come to Missouri. So, her son, her adult son with Down Syndrome, could experience true friendship that existed outside of the family environment. So, just listening to the stories from people that I had been interacting with, specifically in the Down Syndrome Community, this was a tremendous need that existed, not only within the Down Syndrome Community, but beyond. People want friendship, and for someone with a disability, having the opportunity to become friends with someone is often limited because that disability is seen first. So, best buddies approaches that in a way that you don’t see the disability but you get to see and learn about the person and hopefully create a meaningful lifelong friendship with peers.

Brian: Wow! I really love that! I think the mission there is really noble and fantastic and I really think this is an organization that we want to spread around the message and make sure a lot of people can’t really get behind it. Another thing I want to talk a little bit more about is your background and getting into this into this space. I know that you previously served as the Event & Development Director for the Pujols Family Foundation. Can you tell us about your time with the Pujols and maybe something about working for Albert & Deidre.

Kelly: I loved working at the Family Foundation. It’s what introduced me to the Intellectual and Developmental Disability Community. Their mission focuses on providing extraordinary opportunities for people living with Down Syndrome, not only in the St. Louis area, but Kansas City, Nashville and Southern California. The thing that I loved the most about working with Albert and DD is their sincerity, how genuine they are and how overwhelmingly generous they are with their resources. I know people think that they’re not in St. Louis anymore but St. Louis is a place that they still call home and they still put a lot of their energy and focus to serving the Down Syndrome Community and staying committed to the families that they were serving while Albert was a Cardinal and even now that he is an Angel. They’re just extraordinary people and I have a tremendous amount of respect for who they are

Brian: Yeah, I totally agree. I think the Pujols’ family has been a true asset to St. Louis. I think they’ve done some wonderful things for the community and we were all sad when he left for L.A., but they definitely left their spirit here and their hearts here. That’s a really wonderful thing to see. So, I also know that you served as the Director of Sales at The Cheshire Inn & Seven Gables Inn. I have to mention that you spent that time working with my cousin, Harry who we both know is a character. Do you have any good Harry stories you can share with us?

Kelly: You know, I have a lot of good Harry stories. I think the thing that I enjoyed the most was when I was working with Harry at the Cheshire, I spent more time with him in a day than I did with my fiance at the time. So, we just had this running joke that he was my work husband and we just really got to know each other really, really well. There’s so many stories I just don’t even know where to start, so we’ll leave it at that. He was an extraordinary person to work with and I learned so much from him and I just have a lot of wonderful and fond memories of Harry.

Brian: Fair enough, fair enough. I know we could both come up with plenty of stories about Harry. So, I also wanted to talk about the fact that or a number of years, I know you worked with the Wagner family. Of course, Ann Wagner currently serves as our U.S. Congressional Representative in the 2nd District. She also served as Ambassador to Luxembourg from 2005-2009. I bring that up because my wife and I actually had the opportunity to come visit you in Luxembourg back in 2007. We had already been planning a trip over to Europe and we found out from our very good mutual friend that we would cross your path, so we decided to stop by and visit. The home over in Luxembourg of course is very beautiful. I remember it being on the same street as a number of financial institutions. But, what remember most is that we spent a good portion of our night in the attic playing a red solo cup kind-of-game with the off-duty Marines stationed at the Embassy. I remember them being really great guys! What was it like living overseas with the Wagner family?

Kelly: It was the most wonderful experience living with the Wagners in Luxembourg. Not only did I have an opportunity to learn about diverse cultures, but I also had an opportunity just to get a glimpse into what it truly means to have a servant’s heart. Both Ann and Ray Wagner are tremendous servants, not only for the St. Louis Community but also for our great nation, and the selflessness that they have in how they volunteer themselves to be in roles of leadership and the sacrifices that they made; it truly has helped me become a successful individual and know that it’s okay to aspire for greatness. They’re just wonderful people. They’re still, to this day, some of my greatest, closest friends and we see each other very, very often. They’re just extraordinary people and they gave me an opportunity of a lifetime that really set me up for success, not only professionally, but also personally.

Brian: Wow! I love that. It’s really nice to hear the relationship that you built with such a great family. So, I also wanted to mention that the 2nd Annual Best Buddies Missouri Friendship Walk is coming up on April 24th at Creve Coeur Park. I just wanted to take a moment to maybe talk a little bit about that event and maybe anything else that’s coming up in the Best Buddies world.

Kelly: The Best Buddies Friendship Walk is one of the largest fundraising and community awareness events that Best Buddies International does around the world. On April 24th at Creve Coeur Park we are going to be having the Best Buddies Missouri Friendship Walk. It’s an opportunity to witness our mission and action and see the community of people with and without intellectual and developmental disability come together through the means of friendship at a walk. We walk for friendship; we walk for inclusion. It’s an opportunity to raise money so we can continue to grow our programs by investing in wonderful Program Managers to lead the Friendship Chapters and the citizens’ programs that we’re hoping to have in the future. But also, there’s opportunities for sponsorships; for companies to get involved. Best Buddies doesn’t just change the life of a person with intellectual or developmental disabilities. It really does transform the community for the better. We’re focusing on making the community a better place through the means of friendship and helping people think differently about people that they’re already thinking differently about; helping them make it approachable to talk to someone with autism or Asperger’s or cerebral palsy. How do you have a relationship with someone who’s nonverbal? These people can still communicate with you but maybe not in the way that you traditionally communicate with others, so we’re just hoping to transform that through Best Buddies Missouri. If you want to know more about the walk it’s www.bestbuddiesfriendshipwalk.org/Missouri. Register today. You can register the day of the event and we hope that you pledge a donation to help us move our mission forward.

Brian: Wow, that’s really fantastic. I think this is a wonderful organization and I’m really glad that we had a chance to talk about it today. I really want to thank Kelly for joining us today and sharing her experiences with some really wonderful organizations and people.

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