Spotlight Stories

Buddy Cruise: A Cruise for All Ages and Abilities

Every year Jorge Arnoldson (manager of application development at eLogic Learning) and his wife, Pamela, run a group cruise. But it's not just any ordinary cruise—Buddy Cruise is a non-profit dedicated to resources and advocacy for individuals with special needs and their families.

The cruise features a conference, workshop, events, exclusive excursions, and activities for families to make memories in an inclusive environment. It can be a life-changing experience for individuals with special needs and their families to take a vacation in a place where everyone "fits in," and where they have the opportunity to learn from each other and make connections.

Many milestones—such as talking and even taking first steps—occur on the cruise, and participants master independent living skills. The joy and excitement spreads to everyone who interacts with the group. Even people who don't have loved ones with special needs book with the group because they like being in such a positive environment.

“They just want to be a part of the excitement and joy that Buddy Cruise exudes. That's great awareness,” Pamela said. Even the crew sheds a few tears when the families disembark.

Buddy Cruise launched in 2007 with a group of 87 people. Today, more than 500 participate. As the event has grown, so has the workload. Jorge and Pamela volunteer much of their time doing fundraising, scheduling, making phone calls, doing paperwork, emailing, and more—often working nights and weekends.

“Buddy is funded by donations and fundraisers, and every cent goes back into the programs,” says Pamela. “Maybe one day we will find a grant or have funding for salary," she adds.

In addition to the actual cruise, the organization has several outreach programs. These include an ambassador program, classroom reach-out, and donating supplies and equipment to organizations serving individuals with special needs.

The Arnoldsons were motivated to start Buddy Cruise because their youngest child has Down syndrome. After attending a national walk for Down syndrome awareness, they noticed how important it was for their son to be part of a community. Their other children, however, were not fans of walking and joked that they would rather go on a cruise.

The idea slowly unfolded and today, 12 Buddy Cruises later, they take to the seas each year with hundreds of participants. As Pamela notes, “There is something magical that happens when you get all of these ‘kids’ together.”

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