Tuesday, October 8, 2013
MILTON-FREEWATER — Area adults with disabilities have a great resource, in a landscape where resources are few.
Richard and Tammy Fryer of Milton-Freewater have organized a group called Friends on the Go, or FRoGs, designed for adults 18 and older with developmental disabilities. This group provides a needed social outlet, fun activities and life-enhancing experiences for the participants.
“These people are lonely,” Tammy said.
The idea for the group came about from the Fryers’ personal experience. Their son, Thomas Hamilton, 25, has disabilities. But in addition to his challenges he has gifts and motivation. He has a great memory and is a good athlete.
“I was in shot put, bowling and skiing” in the last Special Olympics, Hamilton said. He is also getting involved in long-distance running, and is employed at the Walla Walla YMCA.
Richard said their commitment came through Thomas, wanting him to have all the opportunities possible.
They wanted to focus on positive experiences and increasing the options available for these adults.
“There’s the Horizon Project, but the social life, it’s just not there,” Tammy said.
“Often, disabled adults have a social life that is TV, gaming or eating. We want to try to give them a social life,” Richard said.
The Fryers approached their church with their idea. “We ran it through our church — the Wesley United Methodist Church — when we were at a planning meeting deciding on a mission,” Tammy said.
That was three years ago, and now the group is blossoming.
The need is huge and funds are scarce. But they have received help.
“Some wonderful women from Milton-Freewater gave us some donations,” she said. “And we do things on the cheap. We do in-house activities and we have fundraisers.”
The group stays busy, planning their fundraisers, community service projects and other activities.
“It’s important for them to give back — they’ve been given to all their lives,” she said.
Last Christmas they adopted a family in need. “They loved wrapping the presents and the family really enjoyed it. And it doesn’t matter how much tape was used,” Tammy said. Their fall fundraiser paid for the presents.
They also have a FRoGs Christmas party, another festive, social gathering in a safe environment. “We give them a stocking filled with the necessities, like socks and toothpaste,” she said.
Bowling, swimming, miniature golf, Walla Walla Sweets baseball games, movies, concerts, crafts and barbecues are other popular group activities. So is the Corn Maze, as they expand their horizons.
“Some don’t care for the activities. One lady didn’t want to go into the Corn Maze so Thomas stood out there with her,” Tammy said.
The group’s outings serve to reduce stress and encourage socializing among members. Many in the group also take part in the Special Olympics, so most of the participants already knew each other. That is helpful — but also not helpful at times.
“They can be cliquish,” she said. “That’s especially true of people with limited social skills.” But their interactions improve with experience.
The last time the Special Olympics were held, there were about 275 athletes, Richard said.
The variety of activities are all efforts to help a group of adults who have aged out of other organizations and social options.
The group meets the second and fourth Sundays, unless something else is scheduled. Get-togethers are held at the church, but they’re social, not religious in nature. All faiths are welcome.
The fourth Sunday meeting includes a free supper. “Some don’t have good nutrition,” Richard said.
At the group’s annual planning meeting they seek out ideas for fun activities. They vote on the ideas, allowing them to make their own decisions about the things they’d like to do, said Richard.
“A fun thing is to combine cooking dinner with a special event like our Valentine dinner. They fixed red food and each one could invite two guests,” Tammy said. The red foods were spaghetti and Jell-O.
A recent cooking class and dinner was well-attended. “We had nine participants and they made French bread pizza,” she said.
The group includes people with all types of disabilities and living situations. Some live in adult foster homes, some with family and some on their own. Currently there are about 12 participants and about four volunteers.
The meetings are fun and low-key. “Sometimes a meeting is to just sit and watch a movie,” Richard said. “No stress.”
“Interacting is a huge part of it. We have rules. You must respect your peers, respect property. If you use bad language or abuse someone, verbally or otherwise, you’ll be removed,” Tammy said.
They’ve never had a physical altercation, and any removals were temporary and followed up with counseling.
They give plenty of credit to the Rev. Quinton Kimbrow of Wesley United Methodist Church for his support. He made a DVD for them of photos and videos, which they watched at one of their meetings.
“We will be known by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us,” said Kimbrow. “These are the most gentle people I’ve known. ... They are in a safe environment with no pecking order. And they’ve done some really neat things.
Kimbrow said the group works well together. “It’s going really well,” he said. “We’re doing some things that no other agency is doing. We saw that there were some nutritional issues, and food prices are rising, so we started some cooking classes.”
Kimbrow has taken special training to assist applicants for Supplemental Security Income.
“People in the agencies need to continually study to be able to help. The policies are too difficult to understand,” he said. This makes it difficult for those who need assistance from the government to actually be able to apply for it.
Richard said Kimbrow gives great advice for parents seeking help. “The parents don’t know where to turn and they get frustrated.”
Volunteers are always welcome. “The more volunteers we have, the more participants we can have — and have fun,” Richard said. “With a larger group, transportation becomes an issue,” but the volunteers are typically able to coordinate rides, and things work out, he said.
“We invite other churches to join us in this,” he said. In whatever way is workable — whether they start their own group or work with this one — more help is needed, he said.
“The disabled community is underserved. It’s a large community,” Tammy said.
Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.