In 1998, a group of families got together to talk about what’s next for their adult children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. They had all graduated from the public school system and needed services and supports that were engaging.
That is when FRIENDS of Broomfield was born with Gina Coufal leading the way.
Gina’s oldest son, 43-year-old Joshua has brought great purpose and meaning to her life.
“FRIENDS exists because of a need of my family that surrounded Joshua and that’s a common need that I shared with other families,” Gina said. “So in the beginning, we became a voice for people with disabilities in our community. FRIENDS became a direct service provider and that’s what we do today.”
I produced a video for the FRIENDS 20th Anniversary that incorporates a storybook animation, capturing the work done over 20 years go bring this dream to reality.
FRIENDS is about fun.. that’s what the first ‘F’ in its name stands for. (Fun, Recreation, Inclusive, Experiences, Networking and Discovering the Spirit.)
The participants are happy and cherish the friendships and opportunities that come with every day.
“I love being here,” participant Christina says. “Everybody treats me nice here. I’m planning to be here the rest of my life.”
Christina has been with the FRIENDS since it’s early years.
The organization’s first big community involvement was with a Special Olympics team. That grew into an even larger sports program with partners at the Broomfield Therapeutic Recreation Program. During the week, participants are driven over to the Paul Derda Recreation Center where they take spinning classes, play basketball, lift weights or swim with recreational specialists.
The majority of the day program takes place in a building that was designed and created for the organization in 2013.
“This building provided us a means to do the work we need to do,” Gina said. “It has provided us a space to do the kinds of programs we want. You know… to create, to be able to offer the kinds of things that our participants want to be a part of. What they want for their lives.”
Each day, there are a variety of classes participants choose to take: gardening, cooking with the items from their FRIENDS garden, computer skills, arts & crafts, a book club.. the list goes on and on and is always expanding.
The curriculum at FRIENDS is generated by the participants. They are encouraged to let staff know the kinds of things they want to learn about and then, the work begins to start a new class. The staff makes sure that every and any activity educates the participants and improves and retains their life skills.
The FRIENDS Residential Program was also started because of the desires of participants. Those who are able to live independently either do so on their own or in a group setting in a home, living alongside peers and care providers.
90-percent of the FRIENDS participants have jobs in the Broomfield area thanks to the Supported Employment Program which started in 2015. Most of the participants also have volunteer roles at various non-profits in and around Broomfield.
“These adults are so used to people doing for them, supporting them and when they’re given the opportunity to support someone else, to be a hero in the situation, to be the giver, they love that,” Gina said. “It’s something we all need.”
The FRIENDS participants are no different from any one else in their desire to be social. Whether it’s a gathering for a big game, a group ski trip or a Ladies Night out, the social program keeps the participants busy outside of the Monday-Friday hours of the day program.
Most recently, FRIENDS has partnered with Hills, Inc. and now provides travel opportunities for participants. One of the first trips involved a group of participants flying to Arizona for a Cardinals vs. Broncos football game.
FRIENDS is spectacular for many reasons. It is person-centered, helping participants face and overcome challenges while also sharpening life skills. It encourages adults to be integral members of the community, contributing through work and volunteer opportunities. For those who can live independently, FRIENDS provides the opportunity to do so with whatever degree of assistance is needed.
There is so much love at FRIENDS, acceptance, respect and so much joy.
To read more about FRIENDS of Broomfield, please learn more from a previous story on Kyle Dyer Storytelling.