Families, Respect, Inspire, Education, Networking for Down Syndrome and Special Needs (F.R.I.E.N.D.S.) is a volunteer-based nonprofit.

One local support group is finding innovative ways to raise funds during the pandemic.
Families, Respect, Inspire, Education, Networking for Down Syndrome and Special Needs (F.R.I.E.N.D.S.) is a volunteer-based nonprofit that was founded in 2007 by parents of children with Down syndrome.

The group’s motto is “I can and I will,” and President Ann Foyt is the driving force behind this motto.

“I love helping new parents,” Foyt said. “We have a F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Parent Packet that we assemble with resource information, brochures from other agencies and the book, Babies with Down Syndrome: a Parents’ Guide. We sent out over 150 packets this year to new families, to Brandon Hospital, St. Joseph’s Women’s, St. Joseph’s Children’s, Tampa General and Mease Countryside. The hospitals distribute the packets to parents for us.”

Foyt has lived in the Brandon area for more than 20 years and has been a nurse for 25 years. Her son, Zachary, was born in 1998.

“We did not know he had Down syndrome until the doctor in the operating room announced to the entire room, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Foyt, your son has Down syndrome.’ The room got extremely quiet; all you could hear was me crying. The son we had waited so long to have was not the son I was going to take home. I think I cried for three months straight, it was like I was grieving the loss of my baby, not celebrating him. When we arrived home I had no idea what to do.”

Foyt realized she needed to become an advocate for her son, and that is when she joined F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

“It was run by a small group of parents who got together to listen to a speaker and then go out to dinner afterwards,” Foyt said. “The woman running was ready to hand the responsibility over to someone else and when I told her I would take it over she handed me a box of papers and told the others I was now president.”

It wasn’t easy, but Foyt turned the little nonprofit into a thriving organization that helps families who have children with Down syndrome.

“We have programs for our community with our monthly Baby Friends, adult dances, arts and crafts, family game night and parent support group meetings in Hillsborough and Pinellas,” Foyt said. “With [the] pandemic, all of our programs stopped. We had to find another way to connect, so we started having Zoom get togethers. Our monthly dances went to weekly Zoom dances. We have 15 adults who are addicted to the dances; they love getting together with their friends. Our new and expectant parents can log on to a monthly Zoom support group meeting so we can answer any questions or concerns they may have.”

To learn more about F.R.I.E.N.D.S., visit www.fdswf.org or contact Foyt at 245-2782.

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Libby is a writer for The Osprey Observer/The Christian Voice. She started as an intern in 2009 and upon finishing her internship, she was asked to stay on as a permanent writer for both papers. Libby lives in Brandon with her two rescue dogs, Olive and Bogey.