By Executive Director Nate Johnson and retired Executive Director Tom Doody, North Quabbin Citizen Advocacy
Elements of Friendship
Some important elements of friendship include that the friendship is undertaken by two willing people and that the roles are unpaid. It is important that there be enough contact and presence in each others’ lives to build a bond. Perhaps the most effective way to build and strengthen a bond is in person, but it can also be done over the phone or using social media. Some elements of friendship which are often absent from the staff/client relationship are that friendships are more likely to be enduring, caring and heartfelt, and flexible. It is about friends getting together in ways that they choose, and not fulfilling assigned and supervised roles in each other lives. When friends are there for each other repeatedly, a sense of comfort and trust grows between the two parties. Friendships may not have equal contributions from each party, but friendships are mutually rewarding.
Exploring Needs Addressed by Good Relationships
A good friendship addresses not only loneliness but also provides companionship, doing something together that both parties are interested in. For instance, friends might share a common goal, interest or hobby. A common goal is to give the disabled person a chance to connect outside of the service system instead of always being in segregated groups of others with disabilities. Those supporting freely-given friendships often encourage the non-disabled friend to involve their disabled friend in community events which are open to all. Friends can help to ensure that service recipients receive the support they need. There are numerous other roles friends can play in each others’ lives. They can give advice or guidance, provide practical help such as rides, even attending doctors’ appointments. This clarifies expectations as well as reduces the chance for confusion or disappointment in the future. Similarly, the friendship can provide a sense of belonging to a group or community activity the pair might become involved with. For those introducing potential friends, it is best practice to discuss the possibilities of what might happen in the relationship. The hard fact is that people with disabilities are more often likely to have bad things happen to them and to receive poor treatment. A vigilant friend who asks questions and consistently shows up can be a powerful force of protection. Studies have actually shown that people who have friends are safer because they have people to look out for them. They have people they can call on in a time of need. A friend who does not work in the service system can be an outside observer who Is not limited by the constraints of their job. In addition, it is important to point out that friendships between people with and without disabilities not only impact the lives of those who are directly involved in the relationship, but also change the attitudes of people who observe them.
Suggested Sequence of Steps to Start a Matchmaking Project
- Identify a project leader and small committee to initiate the project.
- Project leader and committee study matchmaking and plan project implementation.
- Define friendship clearly to provide foundation for project
- Define beliefs/assumptions that will shape project (e.g., reasons for lack of friendships, benefits of friendships, obstacles to friendships, need for friendship facilitators)
- Identify potential roles for friends in relationships (e.g., practical helper, hobby companion, confidant, protector)
- Define practices to be followed in matchmaking (e.g., partner recruitment, orientation, introduction process, follow-along and support to relationships)
- Define administrative context of project (e.g., governance, relationship with other components of service, funding.
- Secure commitment of agency and other decision makers to support the matchmaking effort.
- Project leadership and committee members identify lonely individuals with whom they will seek to develop friendships to establish standing to invite others into similar friendships.
- Begin recruitment of partners to enter into friendships following the established practices.
Suggested Sequence of Steps in Matchmaking
- We always recommend starting out with the person with the disability and then looking for a friend/advocate who matches their needs, desires, and interests. This allows focus on the person with the disability and their individuality from the very beginning.
- We recommend that the leader or leaders of the project meet with an identified friend/advocate to give them background about their potential friend and to orient them as to how the program will support them.
- If the friend/advocate agrees, the next step is to have the first meeting between the two, sometimes referred to as the introduction, and see if there is a spark.
- After the first meeting we recommend checking in with both parties separately to see how they think it went. Based on this there could be a second meeting with at least one of the leaders present or not.
- Depending on the needs of the individual with disabilities (for example their ability to communicate) there could be a family or staff member with them during the first few meetings.
- In general, it is always best for the staff to take a background support role as soon as possible in order to allow the friendship to blossom.
- Background support to the friend/advocate, usually via phone calls, emails, or texts, is a key part of sustaining relationships. It is a given that all relationships are hard at some point, but this is even more the case for people who have been rejected many times, are embedded in human service programs, and/or lack relationship skills. Further, people with disabilities are more vulnerable to bad things happening to them. Good support from project leaders will make it more likely that their friends will note problems as they begin to emerge, and will then stand by and help out their disabled friends.
There are a wealth of other topics to explore in planning and operating a matchmaking service. For example, topics to be covered in orientation of a potential friend need to be explored. Communicating honest, realistic expectations for the potential friendship while at the same time inviting engagement can be challenging. Establishing procedures that all project leadership to provide adequate support while also being minimally present is yet another challenging topic to be explored.
The key in getting started is to get started. A few people with a clear commitment and administrative support to act on that commitment can make a big difference in the lives of people with disabilities.
North Quabbin Citizen Advocacy can be reached for further consultation regarding matchmaking at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nate Johnson can also be reached at 978-575-0309.