By Salfen, Paul
If you could list President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Sens. Robert F. Kennedy and Edward Kennedy as your uncles; Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver as your father; Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver as your mother; Maria Shriver as your sister and Arnold Schwarzenegger as your brother-in-law, it's safe to say you could pull some strings. But what exactly would you do with that opportunity if given the chance?
Anthony Kennedy Shriver knows names can open doors. But beyond opportunity, his famous family provided him with a personal philosophy that inspired him to start a nonprofit that touches some 700,000 lives annually and has grown from a college project into an organization now in 50 countries, as well as all 50 states.
Best Buddies International, started by Shriver in 1989, is dedicated to creating opportunities for one-to-one friendship, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. By pairing them with people without disabilities, the organization fosters meaningful relationships that in turn help people with disabilities to develop social skills and confidence to navigate more easily through life. The organization has become a mission for Shriver, who has overseen its growth from a single chapter to almost 1,500 chapters at middle school, high school and college campuses,
Shriver does more than tend his name to the effort. As the organization has grown, so have the day-to-day responsibilities, administrative work and travel around the globe to special events. "Sometimes it feels like work," he admits.
But when asked to recall a defining moment, he quickly says, "Thank God I don't only have one. If I did, I wouldn't be able to keep going. I have thousands of them."
He recalls giving a presentation in Miami recently that brought mothers to tears as he spoke of their children's success stories. He also recalls one Buddy from Boston who went from a sedentary life of watching TV all day to being fully insured and salaried in a new job and engaged in a newfound social life.
"I've got to have a fire in my belly and kerosene thrown in there," Shriver says. "Otherwise, the days become really long and overwhelming. Sometimes you go, 'Why the hell am I doing this?' And you get a shining moment, and then it's all worth it."
Shriver, 45, can hardly believe just how much Best Buddies has grown. "It's been an incredible ride," says the Georgetown alum. "I've been all around the world because of it. My family is all involved in it, so it's become a family affair, which is how I grew up--being involved in volunteer service--and I found that to be a very rewarding life. It's a life that leads you to stay together as a family, which is critical to your kids and your spouse, and I'm grateful for that."
He recognizes the importance of having a strong team but cites his family as the strongest contributor to his success. "My parents are probably the greatest influence in my life. …