By Debra Garcia
Every day, individuals with special needs, young or adult, search for direction and ways to improve their lives, as it can be very hard for them. This is where Down syndrome awareness group F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (Families, Respect, Inspire, Education, Networking for Down Syndrome & Special Needs) comes in, and it needs help.
Starting back in 2014, Executive Director of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Ann Foyt has done everything in her power to help the group raise funds for an activity center for adults with Down syndrome. This way they have a place to work and learn to be more independent.
It has been trying to raise money for a potential center for quite a while now. During the last football season, volunteers worked at Raymond James Stadium, and they will again for the upcoming season. Led by Jeff Green and Paul Foyt, a concession stand is run on the third floor. Adult members have worked alongside volunteers, raising money and gaining job experience, which helps them later in life.
Money is also raised by hosting farmers markets in the spring and fall and hosting fundraisers. Just recently, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. had a first annual B Street Shoot-Out at FishHawk Sporting Clays. Later this month, a Coach bag brunch and bingo event will be held. All money raised will go to the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. activity center.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. does not just hold events for adults in need, but kids too. Thanks to its many partners, it has plenty of programs to help children as much as possible.
“We Rock the Spectrum helps us bring our Baby F.R.I.E.N.D.S. playgroup for birth to 5-year-olds. Livingstone Academy lets us host our fun adult dances and family game nights. For our After-School Specials, they visit April LaCava’s [Hold] Our Horses in Valrico. For Pinellas, we have partnered with ResCare to bring an adult dance in Clearwater,” said Foyt.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. also partners up with the Outback Bowl, Ken Brownlee of the Brownlee Group/Keller Williams Realty, Caspers Company, American Metals Supply, A.R. Savage & Son, Marine Towing of Tampa, the Tampa Bay Pilots Association, Ross Spano Law, Fidelity National Title, Hitchcock Law Group and Runnels Insurance, which all help raise funds and awareness for the activity center.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. needs an activity center in the Brandon area as soon as possible.
“A coffee shop or tea room or ice cream shop would work well. We just need a place,” said Foyt.
To volunteer at F.R.I.E.N.D.S., fill out an application at www.friendssupport.org or visit its Facebook page @FRIENDSWESTFLORIDA for more information.