The word friend is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a favored companion” or “one attached to another by affection or esteem”. True to its meaning, Friends Life Community (FLC) aims to create a place of belonging for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Its broad services provide teens (16+) and adults a safe haven to grow personally, develop socially, and establish a sense of community.
FLC’s Taylor Wigginton (Client and Family Experience Coordinator) and Olivia Moore (Program Director) are passionate about their cause and the programs they offer to help the disabled community, including those that promote life skills, advocacy through the arts, and service learning and employment.
“We provide opportunities for the friends to really shine and be in the spotlight, and to be seen for who they really are,” Moore said. “Diversity has become a really big topic of discussion, which is amazing. Still, those with disabilities are often left out of that conversation.”
FLC originated in 2007 with four families and friends, all of which are still heavily involved in its programs to this day. The organization began in a church basement before expanding to a larger location based in Granny White Pike, Nashville, Tennessee. There, they refer to their program participants as “friends”. The term makes it easier for both clients and staff to get along with as it retains the dignity of each member.
“It keeps everyone kind of on the same level,” Wigginton explained. “Often people want to refer to our friends as students or kids or anything less than an adult. [The term “friend” allows us to] make sure that we’re talking about them as an adult, and not anything less than that.”
During the pandemic, FLC managed to transition their programs to an online setting. These online programs enabled them to expand their reach beyond their local environment and across the country. As a result, they doubled their friends served from 40 to 96 since March 2020.
FLC provides both day and evening programs. The day program is the largest of the two. Although they are held Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm, the schedule is very flexible. Friends are welcome to join the program at whatever time works best for them. One of their biggest day programs is called Advocacy Through the Arts.
“Our Advocacy Through the Arts program involves the performing arts and the tandem troupe theater, which is our theater group that travels and performs original plays that they write,” Moore said.
In addition to performing, friends also have the opportunity to sell their visual art at the program’s events.
“We try to put self-advocacy at the forefront of everything that we do. Our arts program highlights that in a way that that I’ve not seen done before,” Moore explained.
In addition to Advocacy Through the Arts, FLC has a variety of coaching sessions for life skills, health and nutrition, drama therapy, and free employment training. These coaching sessions are designed to help equip friends with skills that will improve their ability to find employment.
The smaller, evening programs belong to the Social Club, which meets three times a month. During these evening events, five friends are accompanied by FLC staff as they engage in social activities. This may include visiting restaurants or other places of interest for the friends.
“I feel like we have a little more flexibility in the things that we can do because we’re setting the standards and the parameters in which we’re wanting to function,” Wigginton said.
ReAbility Makes Programs Like FLC’s Easier to Find
ReAbility is a search engine for individuals with disabilities that helps identify nearby resources, programs, and events based on their specific disability and needs. Dreamscape Foundation collaborated with Chris Myers to create this resource, which is currently within its early stages, but evolving with each new partnership.
FLC sees ReAbility as an opportunity to reach more people in the future and connect them with the curriculum best suited to their unique skills and needs. “The biggest thing that’s going be so wonderful with [ReAbility] is that people can set their preferences on what they wanted to be alerted about and they automatically get those notifications,” Moore said. “I know families and individuals that are constantly on the search for what they need and what they’re looking for.”« PreviousNext »