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Best Buddies Canada

Best Buddies Story Spotlight: Matthew Deforest

Matthew Deforest Blog Post

Matthew Deforest has a long history of involvement with Best Buddies Canada. He was first introduced to the program as a student at Western University. Now, seven years later, Matthew is kept busy as an associate investment counsellor at Mawer Investment Management in Toronto.  Between his work and personal life in busy Toronto, Matthew recently found time to take on another role as sitting member on the Best Buddies Canada board of directors.

His experience with Best Buddies didn’t begin until he was in his third year of university. “My fiance’s roommate at university – Taylor – was involved in Best Buddies throughout high school as well as university,” he explains. “Taylor ended up becoming the president of the Best Buddies student society at Western University and we would see firsthand through Taylor, her involvement.” He describes Taylor’s connection as a peer buddy to Tino, an adult in the community living with an IDD. At Best Buddies, Taylor and Tino would visit at group events and hang out separately, whether that involved walking around the mall or catching a movie. Eventually, Matthew had the opportunity to meet Tino. “Tino is truly one of a kind and it was special seeing their friendship,” he says, “so I ended up applying to be a part of the program.”

Matthew and his partner with Taylor and Tino at mini putt

Matthew took on a leadership role in Best Buddies, joining the student council and overseeing the chapter’s finance. During his two years in this role, Matthew met a large number of students who were also involved in different areas of the organization. They would typically plan monthly events, seasonal parties, and even a year-end formal. He notes, “Even though I wasn’t specifically paired with someone, you would see that it’s a close-knit community so you would see the same faces month to month. Everyone who was going to those events – it did feel like a large family. It was very rewarding to see how happy it made everyone. Everyone had a great sense of humour and it was always easy to feel comfortable and at home there.”

During these events, Matthew noticed the impact and sense of inclusion that the program brought to participating buddies. “When I look back on it, it was easy for everyone to connect with one another, to be vulnerable,” he explains. “It really was a safe space for everyone to truly be themselves, to laugh together and to make lasting connections. I just felt like I was part of the group.”

In his fourth and final year of school, Matthew and the chapter leadership team had to pass the torch to the next student council. Thankfully, it wasn’t difficult to find students who were willing to step up and take on active roles in the chapter. The culture at Western was such that Best Buddies always had consistent participation and passionate volunteers, so the chapter was always in good hands. There were always regularly scheduled events and a variety of activities.

Western University Best Buddies’ Halloween event

Recently, Matthew decided to continue supporting Best Buddies as a board member. He explains, “When I think about the future of the organization, the first thing that always comes to mind is the awareness. I would love for as many people as possible in Canada to know who we are, what our mission is, and what our goals are. I think the work we do speaks for itself and it’s really just a matter of people being aware of the organization.”

Matthew’s story is a testament to the impact that Best Buddies has in communities across Canada and the importance of creating a safe space of inclusion and acceptance. Best Buddies benefits everyone who participates. As Matthew says, “It’s powerful to see the impact it has on individuals. I’d encourage anyone who is looking to be involved in some volunteer or charity work. I think it’s a great opportunity to get out there in the real world and share in this experience.”