Participants gather outside to hear from speakers about the Best Buddies mission
Courtesy of Roni Kane

In 2019, Jordan Tolmie from Rochester, Mich., and Kelley Mutschler from Warren, Mich., became “Best Buddies.” The pair had both signed up to participate in the one-to-one friendship matching program coordinated by the Michigan state chapter of Best Buddies — an international nonprofit organization that supports individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). 

Tolmie, who is on the autism spectrum, said before Best Buddies her intellectual disability made it hard for her to form meaningful relationships. However, after being matched with Mutschler, Tolmie said her life changed. 

“I’ve had a hard time making friends, finding employment,” Tolmie said. “I wish I had all of this earlier — in my high school days.”    

Three years after being matched, Tolmie and Mutschler are still “Best Buddies.” With the warm April sun shining down on the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, Mich., on Saturday, the two walked side by side wearing their purple Best Buddies shirts. They were joined by over 300 other Michiganders for the state’s annual Best Buddies Friendship Walk. Friendship Walks take place across the country in various cities throughout the year and are an annual fundraising event for Best Buddies.

Saturday’s walk raised $41,439 for the Michigan chapter of Best Buddies, which will help expand their programming across the state for the coming year. The University of Michigan chapter won the prize for fundraising the most money — a total of $9,183.

LSA senior Lydia Goff, the co-president of the U-M chapter of Best Buddies, worked with LSA senior Jake Weissman, the chapter’s executive director, to plan this year’s Friendship Walk at the zoo. Both Goff and Weissman have been involved with Best Buddies since high school.

Goff said both her and Weissman’s high schools, in Virginia and Florida, respectively, offered student volunteers opportunities to support their local Best Buddies chapters. This previous experience is what inspired them to join the U-M chapter of Best Buddies once they got to college. 

“Jake and I both went to high school in different states,” Goff said. “(Without volunteering in high school), I don’t think we would have really known what Best Buddies was before coming to Michigan. That’s why we wanted to get involved in this chapter.”

Along with their leadership positions within the organization at the University, Goff and Weissman were asked to join the Best Buddies Advisory Board for the state of Michigan in October 2021. They were tasked with organizing the 2022 Friendship Walk, which they started planning in January. As a senior, Weissman said Saturday’s walk will likely be his final Best Buddies event before he graduates.

“This is technically my last Best Buddies event in the state of Michigan,” Weissman said. “So it’s bittersweet. It’s nice to see how much Best Buddies has grown in the state of Michigan since the time I was a freshman here.”

Ann Arbor resident Aidin Assef, Weissman’s buddy, attended the event Saturday and walked through the zoo with Weissman. Since the pair were matched as buddies two years ago, Assef said his friendship with Weissman has become really important to him. Celebrating their friendship at the zoo was an enjoyable experience, Assef said.

“(We met) at a Best Buddies event when someone introduced me to Jake and said I was his buddy,” Assef said. “I really love the zoo, it’s cool.”

Goff and Weissman helped lead the U-M team’s fundraising efforts through outreach initiatives in advance of the Friendship Walk. By connecting with local businesses as well as family and friends, Weissman said the money they raised will be used to expand Best Buddies programs to high schools across the state and to hire a Best Buddies career consultant who will help find job opportunities for program participants with IDDs.

Besides matching volunteers with “buddies,” part of Best Buddies’s mission is to make it easier for individuals with IDDs to find careers they are passionate about. Tolmie received her job with Kelly, a management consulting company headquartered in Troy, Mich. through the Best Buddies jobs program.

While participating in her third Friendship Walk on Saturday, Tolmie said she is thankful for Best Buddies for helping her find both a career and her best friend, Mutschler.

“Getting involved in Best Buddies has led me to a job,” Tolmie said. “(Today we’re) bringing the word of inclusion (and) bringing everyone together.”

Mutschler said she cherishes her friendship with Tolmie and was happy to see so many other people supporting Best Buddies at the zoo.

“It has opened up a world of understanding … that I didn’t have before,” Mutschler said. “A world of a beauty that I didn’t know existed, (which) included a level of tolerance and so much more.”

Tolmie’s father, John Tolmie, currently serves as the chairman of the Best Buddies Advisory Board in Michigan. John Tolmie told The Daily he is thankful for the support Best Buddies gave his daughter when she was looking for a career, and he hopes to be able to offer the same opportunities to other individuals with IDDs.

While the money raised will help Best Buddies expand their programming in Michigan throughout the coming year, John Tolmie said raising awareness is just as important.

“Fundraising is important,” Tolmie said. “But getting the word out is the most important thing. There’s 300 people here today and then they talk to somebody (about Best Buddies) and that’s the way the word’s gonna spread.”

At the closing ceremony, Best Buddies member Jacob Brin stood up in front of the crowd of participants and spoke about his experience with the program. From encouraging him to overcome his fear of public speaking to helping him find a career he loved, Brin said Best Buddies was instrumental for him becoming comfortable with his disability. 

“Before I joined Best Buddies, I wasn’t as comfortable with thinking of myself as disabled,” Brin said. “I always sort of, especially in high school, considered myself a background character … (but) Best Buddies — especially the friendship aspect of it  — has really helped me see that I’m amazing and (you all) are amazing.” 

Brin also awarded trophies to Goff for being the individual donor who fundraised the most and to the University for winning the highest team contribution. 

John Tolmie concluded the ceremony by thanking the University — as well as Michigan State University’s team, which raised $1,762 — for their support. After a day full of friendship and Vitamin Z, John Tolmie emphasized the importance of so many people coming together to commemorate the success of the Best Buddies program. 

“Today is not a day about Go Green or Go Blue,” John Tomlie said. “It’s about ‘Go Purple’ for Best Buddies.”

Daily Staff Reporters Roni Kane and George Weykamp can be reached at and

Daily Staff Reporter Kristina Zheng contributed to the reporting of this article.