SoCal nonprofit for people with intellectual, developmental disabilities facing COVID-19 revenue loss

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Members of a local nonprofit organization say COVID-19 is greatly impacting their fundraising efforts, putting those that they serve at greater risk of severe illness.

Caley Versfelt and Tsukasa Nakai are global ambassadors spreading the mission of Best Buddies, a nonprofit that works toward inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD.

The organization helped Versfelt and Tsukasa find employment through its job program.

"A lot of the companies are like, 'Wait, wait, wait, you're autistic? Uh oh. We don't want to take that risk,' or, 'You have Down syndrome? Oh, no, no, no,' but this job has given me so much. Every morning I wake up with a purpose," Tsukasa said.

Eighty-three percent of individuals with jobs through Best Buddies Southern California area on paid leave, furloughed or were permanently laid off because of COVID-19.

"It's pretty much counteractive to our mission of ending the social economic and physical isolation of the 200 million people with IDD," said Sarah Won, the nonprofit's director of state operations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with IDD are at higher risk of contracting the virus if they can't communicate symptoms of illness, have trouble understanding preventative measures or have limited mobility. Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have underlying medical conditions, putting them at greater risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

"It's like really tough for me not to be even close to my friends, not to hug them in person and especially at work. I really miss them every day," Versfelt said.

The coronavirus pandemic turned the nonprofit's greatest fundraiser, the Friendship Walk, virtual this year, with a predicted revenue loss of more than 20 percent.

Versfelt and Tsukasa say their advocacy work was more important than ever, but they need donations to cover the costs.

"So many people with IDD who are leaders have to walk that fine line between pleasing the typical population and being true to themselves. I want to empower those people to be leaders," Tsukasa said.

The virtual Friendship Walk was scheduled for Saturday, June 20. Anyone wanting to donate to the nonprofit can click here.
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