Special needs adults having fun at FRIENDS’ Clearwater Halloween 2022 dance.

As a young adult, it’s taken for granted that you can participate in a few rites of passage, such as socializing with friends, going out to dinner and going on your first date, but for adults with special needs it’s an entirely different scenario. After high school, special needs adults have very few choices.

Some attend a day program (if they can afford it or are on the Medicaid waiver), some are lucky enough to get a part-time job if they find a supportive workplace that will work within their limitations, but most special needs adults sit at home, isolated, lonely and shut off from society. If they can get out, they must rely on their parents or siblings for transportation. As they get older, some adults move into group homes, and it becomes worse as they live on a very limited income, and the staff who care for them must look for low-cost activities that the adults can afford.

FRIENDS (Families, Respect, Inspire, Education, Networking, Down syndrome, Special needs) realizes just how difficult it is and has teamed up with Specially Fit, The Hive Inclusive and HUG (Help Us Gather) to bring special needs adults together to meet others, make new friends and enjoy time together.

Specially Fit CEO Mark Oliver hosts a free weekly exercise program at BayCare on Bloomingdale Avenue every Saturday at 12 Noon. Specially Fit is also part of the Special Olympics, and its athletes participate in powerlifting. Oliver also is the owner of several group homes, and his residents are part of FRIENDS dances and parties.

The Hive Inclusive’s Tonya Whitlock hosts support groups and get-togethers in Tampa. It has instructor-led classes, social events and support groups for individuals with disabilities, caregivers and siblings. RSVP for events at www.theinclusivehive.org.

HUG offers a free website that shares social events and activities in Tampa Bay that cater to people of all age groups that live with disabilities. HUG organizes adaptive, inclusive community events from 90+ local organizations in the Pinellas and Hillsborough County areas into a simple, easy-to-use calendar. The HUG website can be used by people with special needs, parents, caregivers and organizations that host events. Check out HUG’s community calendars full of free or low-cost activities for children, teens and adults with disabilities at www.helpusgather.org.

FRIENDS offers two dances a month: one at the Hilton Garden Inn in Riverview and one at the Holiday Inn Express in Clearwater. For more information about FRIENDS, visit www.friendssupport.org.

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