The Friends Clubhouse

Special needs adults age upward in the community and in life.

Like all graduation ceremonies, this one is a happy time complete with caps, gowns and diplomas, but if you look around the room you will see behind the smiles and cheers of the parents a look of trepidation. There is a slight anxiety in the air as pictures are taken and good-byes said to favorite teachers. For these parents and their young adult children, they have not only graduated from the Canyons district, they have “aged out.” “Aging out” is a term used when a person leaves the special education programs they have been enrolled in since pre-school and parents look for new opportunities for their child to grow and thrive as they enter adulthood.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a student is eligible for services until the age of 21. At one time, this meant that on their 21st birthday, they received not only a cake and birthday wishes, they also had their last day of school. Fortunately, this law changed in Utah to allow the students to all graduate together in May. But then the scrambling and experiments begin as parents seek for ways to fill the time that was once spent in the classrooms.

Most adults with Down Syndrome and other cognitive delays in Draper continue to live with their families. Unlike previous generations, where they may have been found living in group homes or other institutional settings, today they are active participants in the community. They are our friends and neighbors and work with us and among us. You will meet Megan and Brady bagging groceries at Smith’s and Fresh Market. Your children see Andy serving lunch at Draper elementary or bussing tables at EvenStevens. For many years, until his retirement, Porter was an important part of the Harmon’s Grocery Store family.

One important resource for parents on the south end of the Salt Lake Valley is the Friend’s Clubhouse. Seeing a need for a social and safe environment for adults who had “aged out” of other services, Stacy Tyler and Kathy Britton and a group of parents created The Friend”s Clubhouse, a privately-funded day program to meet the needs of adults living at home with their parents. Founded in 2008, The Clubhouse provides a secure, semi-structured, fun environment where adults, who have known each other for many years in the school system, can continue their social relationships. It also provides a much needed respite for families who continue to care for their adult children. Stacy observed, “ In the early days we thought, if we build it-they will come and if we can dream it-it will happen.” They built it and come they have!

Open five days a week, participants engage in a wide variety of activities. They shop for and prepare meals. (Say hello next time you run into this smiling group in the store!) They provide service around the valley including the food bank, the bishop’s storehouse and at senior care centers. They are more often on the giving end than the receiving end. They have fun bowling, going to movies, swimming and cheering on the Salt Lake Bees. Kathy explains, “We are now less focused on academics and shoe tying and more focused on those skills that cannot be taught—friendship, laughter and caring. We love our sports teams and are equal supporters of the Cougars and Utes. We love our movies, our music and our food.” The three rules that are paramount at the Clubhouse are 1) kindness, 2) kindness and 3) kindness!

Even a brief visit to this welcoming home and you leave with new friends and a bounce in your step. You may also leave with a beautiful bracelet that Lindsey makes while her friends play games on their iPads. Auggie will tell you a knock knock joke and Jess will want to thumb wrestle you and talk about his favorite band, R5. Sarah will dazzle you with her fashion sense and Kelsey will melt your heart with her manners. TJ and Stuart will want to talk about their favorite teams and Tauna will ask about your dog-she loves dogs and horses. Heather will let you know what local play her family is involved in. Dusty, the oldest member of the clubhouse, might pick up a guitar and sing you his favorite country song. Beau and Nate will lounge on the couch waiting for the next adventure to start or a cute girl to volunteer. Mostly everyone will just want to know if you are having a good day.

Stacy and Kathy have a special gift of understanding the unique needs of the adult population. Often, there are strict dietary restrictions to be observed. There are some physical limitations that must be taken into consideration. But, mostly they are keenly sensitive to the often quirky, often hilarious, often touching personalities of each and every individual in their care. They love each participant like their own. Like all families, who spend a great deal of time together, the glue that holds the clubhouse together is love and a good sense of humor and there is more than enough to fill all of the rooms.

We often hear people bemoan the state of the world but any parent of a child with special needs recognizes that we live in a kinder, gentler time. All parents recognize that they have been the recipients of kindness and tolerance in our community. We feel welcomed in the schools, included in church activities and your children and teenagers reach out with love and kindness to our children. We appreciate the patience shown to our adult children as they work and seek increasing independence. We have a long ways to go in insuring that “no adult is left behind” but we are making giant strides forward and the future looks promising for inclusion and acceptance for anyone with special needs. They may have “aged out” of school, but they are aging upward in life.

Check out the friends at FriendsClubhouse.com.