Need support preparing for your child with Down Syndrome, or a place for you and your family to unwind and have fun? Families Raising Inspiring Educating and Networking for Down Syndrome West Florida (F.R.I.E.N.D.S.) is here to help! The president, Ann Foyt, came to the organization in 2014 to expand resources and provide support to children, parents and their families. After raising her own son with Down Syndrome, she’s experienced first-hand the feelings of isolation and confusion that arise if you’re unsure where to turn for support. Although 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted for various reasons, Foyt believes that all parents should “give kids a chance – they can do it!”
It was this belief that led Foyt to expand the organization and provide Down Syndrome support in as many ways as possible throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties. Over the last three years, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. has provided support to 800 families through four main resources: Parent Packets and Parent Liaisons to help expectant parents, scholarships for sports, conferences, and education, and events for infants, children and teens. They also help coordinate opportunities for those with Down Syndrome to learn activities suited for their abilities, whether playing football, practicing ballet, or learning social and occupational skills.
Having a child with Down Syndrome for the first time brings many emotions and questions to parents, regardless of whether they expect it or not. Parent Packets are given to new parents to provide health information for the child, as well as pamphlets and brochures from agencies providing support (available in both English and Spanish). Parent Liaisons are F.R.I.E.N.D.S. members who are available to provide Packets and personal support. Visit www.friendsdownsyndrometampa.com if you’d like to connect with these resources.
Scholarships are available for various activities, including conferences that provide information to Down Syndrome individuals and their families, as well as, sports activities such as swimming, summer camps, and gymnastics. Educational scholarships are available to provide support with activities including IEP training, private tutoring, and auditing college courses. They also provide scholarships for an evaluation of a child’s educational needs and abilities at Hope Haven’s Down Syndrome Center in Jacksonville, FL. Visit the FRIENDS Down Syndrome scholarship page for more information.
In just three short years, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. has also started what have become annual events. Yearly events include the World Down Syndrome Day in March, a Down Syndrome Awareness Picnic in July, and the Annual Buddy Walk, one of their largest events. The 2nd Annual FDSWF Buddy Walk is being held this Fall on October 7, 2017, at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Those of all ages and abilities are welcome to come walk the mile in support of Down Syndrome, cheer the walkers on, discover what resources are available, or even just to get the support of families, sponsors, and friends. Food trucks will be there to serve participants, volunteers, and onlookers while superheroes, princesses, Star Wars characters, and the Ghostbusters will join in the fun for photo opportunities and activities. If you’d like to donate, be a sponsor, or volunteer, visit www.friendsdownsyndrometampa.com.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. also needs volunteers in other areas as well. Working from home, Foyt needs help with networking and marketing for F.R.I.E.N.D.S. They need help coordinating student volunteers from the University of South Florida for each of their events. During our interview, Foyt said that she’s also seeking young adults to come join and create events for those graduating from college.
If you have any ideas or would like to volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org, signup on their site, or in person at one of their events.