Widening The Circle
formerly “The Real Friends Project”
Below is a list of How To resources for your convenience. Please click on a link below to view more information on that specific topic.
These fact sheets are sponsored by Widening The Circle, formerly The Real Friends Project, a partnership between The Arc of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services.
In the work that we do it starts when we introduce the person we are trying to connect to another individual or group. Therefore we want to start with a well thought out introduction.
Keep in mind the following:
Develop a clear vision of what it is you are trying to accomplish.
Talk it over with the person being introduced so that you are both in agreement as to the amount of information that will be shared and with whom.
Be respectful at all times
If possible try to know something about the people you are introducing (interest- hobbies-favorite places- favorite foods)
Share this information with the person being introduced.
Present the person in a positive light while being open and honest.
Use language that everyone understands. Avoid acronyms.
Look for an ally within the group or a mutual acquaintance of the non-disabled person being introduced.
Model ways of interacting for the benefit of those with and without a disability.
Know that your role is vital to the success of this undertaking.
Know that the introduction is just the beginning of your work but also understand that the time will come for you to let go and become an invisible resource.
For more information you can contact:
- A person with a developmental disability wants to be involved in a faith community of their choosing
- The person or someone in their lives contacts Bridges to Faith to make a referral
- Bridges to Faith staff reaches out to the faith community to which the person has chosen to find a faith companion
- Bridges to Faith staff introduces the faith companion and the person seeking a faith companion
- A CORI check is performed on the faith companion
- Bridges to Faith staff is available to both the faith companion and the individual if any issues should arise
Bridges to Faith focuses on identifying persons with developmental disabilities who wish to participate in local faith communities; as well as to identify members of congregations who wish to offer support by serving as Faith Companions. The goal is to insure that individuals are offered opportunities to explore their spirituality and to enrich the lives of the congregations who welcome them. Since its inception the faith companionships which have been formed have blessed profoundly the lives of all concerned.
Faith COMPANIONS are central to the success of this ministry. A Faith Companion is someone from the faith community who agrees to befriend the individual referred by Bridges to Faith and who would arrange for the individual to participate in the life of the congregation. For the individual, we refer this offers an opportunity not only to have spiritual needs met, but also provides a sense of belonging, friendship and value not easily obtained. For congregations this becomes an opportunity to participate in a genuine ministry of love which enhances their whole life and spirit.
For more information contact:
Bridges to Faith
c/o Better Community Living, Inc.
5 Ventura Drive
Dartmouth, MA 02747
In educating students with disabilities, schools must not just look at the learning experience in the classroom, but what are the skills the student need to have to be able to live, work and participate fully in the community. Started in 1999, the Building Futures Project is designed to offer families and schools a unique resource in helping develop these skills. Since then, over 70 students from nine local school systems have used our services. Our work focuses on providing customized services to students with challenging needs in the community who require extra attention and 1:1 support in the following areas: job exploration in local businesses; finding paid employment that matches the student’s skills and abilities; support to pursue continuing education; teaching life skills in places where student’s will use them; summer programs tailored to the needs of the student; developing friendships with peers and person centered planning. All support takes place in the community and each student has their own support person. The school team selects from a menu of services that which will best meet the needs of the student.
All the work we do is important in developing a foundation of skills, experiences and relationships that can continue to be built on as teenagers grow into young men and women. In our work, we often find that having a friend is of greater priority than having a job. Typically, the students we support know and are known by a lot of people, however that does not necessarily translate into having a friend. There is no secret recipe for turning a casual acquaintance into a true friendship. As we think about our own relationships, most of our acquaintances do not become close friends. When two people really do “click”, there seems to be an element of “magic” involved. Providing opportunities for a student to meet people who have similar interests is an important step to developing fulfilling, supportive relationships. However, it is just the first step. People need time together to get to know each other and to share experiences. This cannot be forced or rushed, but does create the possibility of a friendship developing.
Craig is a fifteen year old high school student with a developmental disability and medical issues requiring nursing support. While most teenagers participate in activities with their school friends (e.g. going to movies, parties), Craig’s social life revolved around his family. On weekends, he would stay at home. Despite attending an inclusive school, he had a hard time developing friendships beyond just having “acquaintances”. The Special Education Director from Craig’s school asked Building Futures to help him develop more fulfilling friendships with his classmates. A “circle of friends” meeting was organized by Building Futures staff with Craig and a number of his peers who shared similar interests. The group came up with a plan to assist Craig to be more involved outside of school. The group met regularly and over the summer did a lot of “typical teenager stuff” including going to a wrestling match, having a cookout, and going to the movies.
There is, however, a larger community outside of his school that Craig could explore and become involved in. The people and associations we have and where we feel a sense of belonging define our communities: it may be our church, a social group, our neighborhood or being a member of a local theater group. For Craig we need to think about where to begin to build these types of connections in places where he feels “a belonging”. In connecting Craig to these places, it helps to know the community-what organizations and clubs exist, who belongs to them, and what there is to do. Sometimes there are people who are not necessarily community leaders, but are people who have an extensive social network who can help make these introductions and connections. With this information, we can then go about the process of introducing Craig to people who share similar interests and hobbies.
Elements in supporting students to develop more fulfilling friendships are:
- assisting student to develop a vision for their “relationship future”.
- working with the student and members of the school community to help facilitate and
deepen the relationships that the student already has.
- assisting student to create a “circle of friends” consisting of peers who share similar
- brainstorming ideas with the circle of activities based on these interests.
- inviting members of the circle to participate in these activities together.
- gathering information with student about local community groups and activities that exist.
- assisting student to be introduced to people who have similar interests by joining a
group or association.
- assisting student to maintain these friendships through encouragement, problem
solving, reciprocity and “social” engineering.
For more information on our services please contact Ross Hooley, Director of the Building Futures Project. Ross can be reached at email@example.com or at 508-999-4436 ext. 162. There is also a promotional DVD available that can be accessed through the Nemasket Group website at www.nemasketgroup.org.
Director of the Building Futures Project
To find out how you might establish a Best Buddies program in your area, contact Best Buddies here.
- Recruit volunteers to build 1:1 friendships with people supported. Use church bulletins, personal connections, look for public speaking opportunities.
- Have Volunteer fill out application, CORI, and interview. When interviewing the volunteer, find out what skills, interests, and activities they have and enjoy.
- Think about an individual you know who has similar interests. This is how we make friends naturally by having something in common.
- Once you decide on a match, contact both the volunteer and the individual to ask if they would like to meet.
- Set up a time for them to meet along with a staff that primarily works with that individual and knows them well. I usually like to have everyone meet for dinner and let the individual choose where we will have dinner to make them more comfortable.
- After dinner, I ask both the volunteer and the individual how they thought things went and if they would like to get together again.
- The next time we get together, we usually meet where the individual lives for coffee, tea, or something light. This gives the volunteer an opportunity to see where the individual lives and who they live with.
- After that I visit again: ask both parties how they felt it went and if they would like to continue getting to know each other. If both agree, then phone numbers are exchanged and I step back and let both people know that I am available to provide support if needed.
- Please note that you need to be prepared to give training to the volunteer.
- You also need to periodically check in and see how things are going.
- Good to have staff keep some kind of activity log or way of documenting when and how often they get together.
- You may need to help staff and individual learn good hospitality skills.
- Can’t stress enough, this is a “real friendship” which means it may
have had an artificial introduction, but now it needs to develop normally. Reciprocity is a crucial part of being friends so this should be encouraged with the individual you assist. I tell volunteers this is just like any other friendship: if you go out to eat, split the bill; or if one
pays one week, the other pays the following etc. (You get the idea.) Also on special occasions a card or gift may be applicable. (You may need to help to facilitate this.)
- One more important note: these friendships/relationships are outside the program realm. This means when plans are made, they are not cancelled because of a behavior plan. Separate from program issues!
For more information contact:
Mary Ellen Goodwin, Community Connector
You can also find a circle facilitator through supportbrokers.org
Most chapters of Special Olympics in Massachusetts offer some Unified Sports. Click here to find a program closest to you.
Click here for more information. Enter your zip code at the top of the page and you’ll get the contact information for the chapter nearest you.
The Real Friends Project has been able to spend time with many people in those challenging transition years. There appears to be lots of attention paid to future “work” opportunities for young people with disabilities (although too often sheltered workshops, “day habs” and other segregated options are the most prominent items on the menu). Planning also emphasizes living options for the young person (although here, too, the menu is dominated by the congregated/segregated group homes). Sometimes planning includes opportunities for some sort of post-secondary education, but this is still pretty rare.
But most rare of all in transition planning is close attention to relationships between our young people with disabilities and their peers without disabilities. And when it is discussed, it is usually as an afterthought, something to add after all the “important” stuff is worked on. And often it is thought of as another program, as if relationships are a separate piece of the life of someone with disability, instead of something that is—or should be—woven throughout their lives.
The Real Friends Project recommends that “relationships” and “friendships” be given priority throughout the entire transition planning process. Our work clearly shows that potential friendships are wherever people live learn, work and play, so…
- asking “Under what circumstances can my son/daughter live that maximizes opportunities for him/her to have friends?” will likely yield a different answer than asking “Where can we find the nicest house for our son/daughter?”.
- knowing that young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have some opportunities to attend college with their peers without disabilities adds a new and wonderful dimension to transition planning.
- thinking of work as a place to meet others, establish relationships with co-workers who may not have disabilities and feel fulfilled, will lead you down a different path than if you are merely planning for a “safe” place to spend the day for a (meager) paycheck.
- expanding our knowledge of the nearly endless list of activities that people with and without disabilities can enjoy together increases the possibilities of friendships and a fulfilling life.
If we consider relationships and friendships as core elements of all of our transition planning, it is likely that bridges will be built into the community. If we neglect to consider those elements, we are more likely to build moats around the very people we care about the most.
The link between having friends and an individual’s physical and emotional health has received some study. To name just a few resources:
- The World Health Organization credits “our relationships with friends and family” as one of the determinants of health.
- “The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships” (December 2010 Harvard Medical School-Health Publication) touts that “Good connections can improve health and increase longevity”.
- “Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health”, by the Mayo Clinic Staff, emphasizes that “Good friends are good for your health”.
Too often, we hear human services staff say that they do not have the time to spend helping people with disabilities they support to connect with other individuals in ways that might lead to friendships. They say they need to concentrate on “mandates” related to health and safety. The sooner that everyone realizes that friendships contribute to good health, the sooner they can begin doing the challenging, but rewarding work of bringing people together to benefit everyone in many ways.
Jim Ross & Mary Ann Brennen
Coordinators, The Real Friends Project
(With contribution from Elizabeth Pell, Human Services Research Institute)
Most faiths have a variety of levels at which their parishioners can be involved. There are, of course, usually worship services that occur at various times depending on the specific religion. These can be quiet and contemplative or raucous and celebratory, appealing in different ways to different people. Many faiths invite their members to be actively involved in the services themselves, as greeters, ushers, readers, helping with communion, collecting offerings, etc.; many people with disabilities can help with these activities. Many faiths have activities beyond the worship services that folks can join in, such as child care, preparing snacks for after the service, evening bible study for adults, community service projects, picnics, serving on committees, etc.
The faith community may even play roles beyond what most of us associate with them. For instance, in Minnesota, four University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) began collaborating to develop and test a model of employment supports in faith communities for members with disabilities, called Putting Faith to Work. According to the project, “It expands the reach of what faith communities do so well: acknowledge the gifts and needs of their members, maintain strong community connections, and address local community needs.” You can get more information on what this project is doing by contacting Angela Amado at the Institute for Community Integration at the University of Minnesota (firstname.lastname@example.org, 651-698-5565).
Several projects have been developed in Massachusetts that focus specifically on helping faith communities reach out to and include people with disabilities. For more information, you can use the resources below:
- Bridges to Faith serves the Greater New Bedford area. You can read a short “How to Build Bridges to Faith” at our projects website.
- Interfaith Connections provides support in Western MA and you can contact Karlene Shea (email@example.com) for more information. (Karlene also wrote “How Introductions can Lead to Friendships” which you can access on our project’s website.
- Spiritual Connections serves the Greater Fall River Area.
A good pay check and meaningful work are important. But this initiative is also an extraordinary opportunity for parents, individuals, job coaches and others to seriously think about the social aspects of work and day supports. Planning needs to include supporting people to maintain current friendships and develop new relationships in the workplace and community. Community is a place where there is interaction, fellowship and common interest. These are the characteristics that lay the foundation for friendships and a relationships.
As this initiative, unfolds we encourage each individual/family to be actively involved in the person centered career plan with respect to both employment and social goals. This is an exciting time for people with intellectual disabilities who will now have new and better opportunities to become part of the workforce or to have a broader range of day options. It is also fertile ground for new friendships and relationships.
A number of approaches have been developed that can help people without disabilities become more aware and understanding of the “mysteries” of those differences that some people with disabilities might have. If you or someone you care about is having trouble “fitting in,” you might want to consider some of the available approaches to make others aware:
–The “I Care program” uses volunteer readers in classrooms who read age-appropriate books about people with disabilities to young students.
–“Understanding Our Differences” has volunteers with disabilities who visit classrooms, give a presentation and answer questions from the students.
–“Kids on the Block” uses puppets representing kids with different disabilities to prompt discussion and understanding.
-Many organizations use an awareness approach of having people without disabilities use adaptive equipment for a while that can simulate what it’s like to use a wheelchair, have a visual or hearing impairment, etc.
-To better understand what dementia is like, a “Virtual Dementia Tour Program” has been developed.
-For a thoughtful video on this topic created by a high school student with a disability, check out www.imtyler.org.
Even though these approaches have often proved helpful, NOTHING can take the place of people with and without disabilities interacting together, wherever people live, learn, work and play. Please visit our website for information about The Real Friends Project.