PATERSON — There is no New Jersey state office for Best Buddies International, a global volunteer movement about one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is the goal of a major fundraiser next month to change that.

By reaching a target of $250,000 to be raised by the organization's first-ever "Champion of the Year" gala in New Jersey, at the Brownstone in Paterson on Friday, Nov. 3, Best Buddies would be able to open that office as soon as spring 2018. Vallye Adams, Best Buddies International national director of expansion and mission advancement, said there is mutual interest in further involvement in the Garden State.

"We are getting calls at our national headquarters office in Miami, about one to two calls a week, from around the state of New Jersey," she said.

Best Buddies and its volunteers help those affected by a broad spectrum of disabilities, not specializing in any particular one: Down syndrome, autism, fragile X syndrome, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, Asperger syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, and disabilities that may yet be undiagnosed.

"We don't focus on the disability," Adams said. "We focus on individuals' abilities. We focus on the mutual, beneficial relationship that's formed."

Those relationships are attempting to close a pretty wide employment gap. According to data collected by Best Buddies, in 2015, 78.9 percent of working-age New Jersey residents without disabilities were employed, but only 26.1 percent of residents with disabilities were working.

The effort to remedy that has taken root in a small handful of schools across New Jersey, with several high schools as well as Princeton University and The College of New Jersey sponsoring Best Buddies chapters. Adams said that where these chapters are thriving, they have helped to change the culture of the schools, creating leadership opportunities for volunteers and the disabled alike, and raising the possibility of hundreds more chapters once funding is secured.

Best Buddies International has already placed 400 people into jobs across the United States. For more on the group's mission, visit bestbuddies.org.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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