Life-Changing Friendship

January 2020 View more

Jack Mayor at the 2018 Best Buddies gala in Nashville

Jack Mayor has a gift for public speaking. He’s articulate and kind, charismatic, and enthusiastic. Amazingly, he doesn’t get nervous when speaking in front of a small group—or even an audience of thousands. That’s quite a talent when you are only 19 years old. It’s even more astounding for someone on the autism spectrum who was nonverbal until the age of 3.

Jack’s skill would never have been realized if it weren’t for his experience in Best Buddies, a nonprofit that fosters one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Jack and Josie

At the start of his freshman year at Neuqua Valley High School, Jack struggled to make friends. It was a difficult transition that left him feeling depressed, anxious, and hopeless. The school recommended Jack take part in its Special Olympics and Best Buddies programs. Through Best Buddies Jack met Josie—and his whole life changed. “She and I made one of those instant connections. She was my best buddy for half my freshman year and all of my sophomore year. Quite honestly, Josie changed my life,” he says.

Jack and Josie spent a lot of time together, from going out to lunch to attending Best Buddies dances. She even cheered him on at all his Special Olympics events. “Their friendship is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed,” his mom, Diana, explains. “She made Jack feel like everyone else, despite having autism. She gave him friendship and in turn, without even realizing it, also gave him his voice.”

An Ambassador for Hope

Best Buddies saw something special in Jack and invited him to attend its annual leadership conference at Indiana University in 2017. During the event, he learned leadership and public speaking skills. By the end of the conference he was one of seven selected to speak during the closing events. “They saw something special in Jack and honed in on it. They gave him a platform to share his gift and the tools to use it. It totally changed his life,” Diana explains.

Emma LaCosse, director of operations and programs for Best Buddies Illinois, remembers his speech. “It was phenomenal. Everyone stood in awe of his story, his delivery, and how charismatic he was in front of everyone.” Best Buddies founder Anthony Kennedy Shriver was particularity moved. “Right after Jack finished, [Anthony] thanked him for sharing his story and told him how people needed to hear it,” Diana explains. “Now Jack is a global ambassador … and speaks all over the world.”

“It’s very exciting to share my story with different groups of people and get the word out that people like me are just trying to fit in,” says Jack. “Just like everyone else,” he adds. In addition to speaking, Jack also serves on Best Buddies’ board of directors and has worked with Nike and Google to partner with the nonprofit’s jobs program. Currently, he and his mom are establishing a Best Buddies group for young adults in Naperville. “When students with disabilities leave high school, all their social opportunities go away,” Diana points out. “This group will be the first of its kind for young adults.”

“Best Buddies is changing the world through the power of friendship,” says Diana. “They transformed Jack from a depressed, sad teenager into a young man who advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the world. ”

Visit for more information on the Best Buddies program, including how to start a chapter at your school.

Photos Courtesy Best Buddies