Founded in 2008, Friends Life Community is a day habilitation program that offers teenagers and adults with special needs opportunities to develop confidence and independence. With ongoing initiatives like Social Club, Arts & Entertainment, and Career Coaching, this Missional Partnership seeks to help the Friends “develop socially, grow personally, and enjoy community as they experience life together.”
Every week, Service Learning and Employment Specialist Patsy Webb brings five to seven of her Friends to the Gathering Room kitchen at the Old Hickory Blvd Location. Together, they prepare approximately 1,400 cups for Sunday Communion, and over the past 42 weeks have prepared 58,800 cups, according to Gigi Sanders, Special Needs Ministry Director.
For the Friends, this hour is more than a service opportunity, although they are engaged and excited by giving back to the community as active citizens. “Our friends have delight in knowing they are helping and making a difference in our church,” Sanders shares. “One of my favorite parts is hearing our friends encourage each other as one completes a tray, saying ‘good job, way to go’!”
But as meaningful as they find their volunteer work, the Friends are also gaining important experience for future employment. “Every step of filling communion trays leads to skills in self advocacy and job training,” Sanders explains. “There is value in the process, the repetition and the skill set.” She deeply enjoys working alongside the Friends, who “make a difference with their kindness and perseverance” as they set the stage for an important act of worship.
In addition to their faithful work behind-the-scenes, several Friends recently enjoyed a turn in the spotlight when their traveling acting ensemble held an open dress rehearsal in the Gathering Room. Tandem Troupe’s performance of their original production “Mystery at the Mansion” showcased the creativity and courage of its members, who wrote their dinner party whodunit and starred in it alongside professional actors.
Parts of the script were left open for improvisation, and the Friends invited audience participation as they ad-libbed their way through investigating a stolen ring. At the end, the audience voted to accuse one of several suspects, and as the Friends drew their story to a close, the entire room greeted their bows with hearty applause.
The scope of Friends Life Community’s commitment to improving the quality of life for teenagers and adults with special needs expands far beyond their volunteer work at Christ Presbyterian Church, but for the staff members involved in their service, it is a particularly special aspect of this Missional Partnership.
“We are indeed blessed on so many levels to have a strong partnership with Friends Life,” Sanders says. “I learn from the team at Friends Life as they serve well, with focus and joy.” Whether serving in the wings or thriving centerstage, these gifted and generous individuals enrich every community they enter with the warm spirit of true friends.