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Circles of Friendship and Support

by Mary Mazzoni on November 6, 2011

Our lives are enriched by all sorts of relationships.

Intimate sharing with very close family or friends. And casual interaction with many other people.

We realize that we cannot, and should not be everything for our children. We want them to be part of their own network of relationships.

We worry. Will our child lead a lonely life?

Today we’ll meet kids and adults whose lives are enriched by relationships of all sorts. May they spark our imaginations. There are many ways to grow circles of friendship and support. And our kids have so much to bring to relationships.

Reaching out

When their daughter Brittany was only six months old, Michelle and Tim had a heartfelt conversation. Brittany’s many needs were the focus of every waking moment. Michelle tearfully told Tim, “if we don’t pay some attention to our marriage, we’re not going to do our best for Brittany.”

They decided to reach out, asking Michelle’s sister if she could care for Brittany one weekday evening every two weeks. They also asked the parents of another child with disabilities if they could trade childcare twice a month.

From there, life changing relationships grew over time. Brittany and her aunt have a deep connection, a blessing to them both. Michelle and Tim have formed close friendships with Janet and Rudy. And Brittany and their son thoroughly enjoy their time together.

It all began when Michelle and Tim acknowledged their limitations and their need for self care. They reached out and asked for what they needed. Enriching the lives of everyone involved. Including Brittany, who is herself a blessing to her family and friends.                                                                       - adapted from With Open Arms

On his own, with a little help from his friends

Chris Klein is a college graduate who lives in his own home, has founded a non profit organization, and is active in his church.

Chris also has cerebral palsy. He communicates using assistive technology and needs help with self care tasks.  Yet, he employs home health care services only one hour a day. His other needs are met through an extensive community of friends.

To meet Chris and learn more, click here.

Building intentional circles of support

More and more families are building intentional personal networks, sometimes called circles of support. Sometimes families do this with the help of a professional facilitator using person-centered planning strategies. Other times, families build these circles themselves or in partnership with other families.

Click here to meet a mom who is building a circle of support with the help of a facilitator. Click here for a video about Families and Allies Working Together, an organization started by families for the purpose of developing circles of support.

For more information about how to build intentional circles of support or personal networks, click here.

Click here to access a mini-module on person-centered circles of support from Cornell University.

Check out LifeSpan, an organization focused solely on helping families build person-centered circles of support, here.

Best Buddies and Friendship Circle

The idea behind these two organizations is simple. To be a catalyst for genuine friendships.

Watch the brief videos to learn how these friendships impact everyone involved. Visit the websites to find out more about each organization and their local chapters.

Best Buddies video here. (website here).

Friendship Circle video here (website here).

Making connections through volunteering

Volunteering is a great way for kids and adults to develop relationships with people who share their interests. It’s also a wonderful way to learn about careers, develop skills and establish a work history.

Click here for a brief video of one young woman’s experience. And click here for more information about volunteering.

Connecting online

Safety and security are paramount online. I won’t recommend a particular interactive online forum unless I know security protocols are rigorous and have been proven over time.

That said, online forums and networks are a source of community and connection for many kids and adults with disabilities. Some of these networks are disability-specific. Others are open to people with all disabilities. Still others are interest-specific and open to everyone. As a parent, you may want to do some googling with your child to check out the possibilities.

If your teen has a goal of postsecondary education or training, I do highly recommend the DO-IT Pals community. Developed by the University of Washington, it includes rigorous monitoring, safety and security protocols. High school students connect with college students and adult mentors with disabilities. They can ask questions, set goals, receive encouragement and develop genuine supportive relationships. Learn more here.

We all need relationships!

In all seasons of life, kids and parents need friendships and connection with others. Relationships enrich our lives in so many ways. And let’s be honest. We can’t “do it all” for ourselves or for our kids. An important aspect of parenting is helping our kids build relationships of their own. And making sure we have a rich network of relationships ourselves.

Your turn

Do any of the strategies mentioned in this post resonate with you? What will be your next step?

How do you support your child in growing friendships and a personal network? We can all benefit from your perspective. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below!

Photo credit - PJohnKeane at Flickr

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jimnp72 November 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm

HEY NICE GOIN NICE GOIN

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Mary Mazzoni December 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Thanks for your encouragement, Jim!

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