Health promotion major Jacqueline Needle ’24, of Sparks, Maryland, was honored last month with the Maryland State Best Buddies Volunteer Award. Only one person per state wins the award.
Best Buddies’ mission is to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-on-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“When they wrote to me, I was surprised because I have been in Lynchburg for so long that I didn’t expect them to think of me,” said Needle, who’s also on Lynchburg’s equestrian team.
The nomination letter praised her for “outstanding dedication and commitment to promoting inclusion” and for making a “positive impact on the lives of those around” her.
Needle’s parents accepted the award on her behalf during a ceremony at Valley Mansion in Hunt Valley, Maryland, on Nov. 3, as she was tied up in an equestrian meet.
“Best Buddies is near and dear to my heart,” Needle wrote in her application letter. “I volunteer regularly, as well as [encouraging] people with disabilities whom I teach in the therapeutic horse riding program to join.
“Best Buddies provides a link for friendships and relationships with people who may have trouble finding connections in environments like schools, work, and housing.”
Needle was president of Best Buddies at her high school and was chosen to be the only student representative on the Best Buddies Maryland Advisory Board. She organized the first Maryland State Best Buddies Talent Show and produced it at her high school.
She also choreographed and performed a football halftime show with her Best Buddies, attended the Best Buddies International Leadership Conference in Indiana, and helped organize two major fundraisers in Maryland — Best Buddies Taste Buds and Best Buddies Drive-in Movie Banquet — during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The volunteer work and fundraising I do for them is extremely fulfilling,” she said. “Because of my involvement with Best Buddies, I decided to dedicate my life to helping people who face special challenges every day.
“I’m currently applying to occupational therapy doctorate programs. Making someone smile who faces daily struggles feels better than any grade or award.”