What's a mother to do when she finds her community's door of opportunity locked and barred and her community unaware of the needs of their most needy children?
In 1992 several mothers within Lake Wales and the surrounding areas found themselves asking that exact question. Without warning the Polk County School Board decided to uproot children from the Polk Life and Learning Center in Bartow and place them in thier local public schools with only the bare necessities. The Special need classes were within a mobile unit which had been placed on the backside of one of the oldest and poorest schools. It stood bare and unfurnished in the midst of Florida sugar sand. The sun blazed overhead without shade. Old sidewalks ended long before they reached the two classrooms. This made getting into the classroom extremely difficult for the children with developmental and/or physical disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs.
One mother was determined to get justice for those children and bring awareness to her community about the needs of the children and thier families. She began the task of breaking down barriers of fear, ignorance, and prejudice. After many years of mental anguish and physical exhaustion her persistanmce paid off. In 1995 she was given permission to utilize a room inside the gym of the Lake Wales Assembly of God (IMPACT church). A small Sunday class for children with disabilities began.
It was from that little Sunday school class that a nonprofit organization, called Circle of Friends Ministry, was born. The Circle of Friends gave hope for a better future and acceptance within the community for people with disabilities and their families. The doors of opportunity soon began to open for those children with special needs. In 1999 the Lake Wales Kiwanis Club opened thier Easter event up to include the disabled children in the community. Next, in 2002, the Lake Wales Art Center granted the special needs children the opportunity to display their art . Opportunities kept coming steadily. The Women's Club, VFW, Civic Clubs, and churches began to sponsor monthly social events and field trips. Financial support for the growing organization began taking root.
On December 23rd, 2003, The Circle of Friends Ministry moved to 105 E. Stuart Avenue in downtown Lake Wales. This location houses administrative offices, a family room, an auditorium, a gift shop, the Snack Shack, and an educational area where the particpants partake in classes and other training . The Circle is a wonderful place of opportunity where staff devote their time and talent to empower and equip each participant with the knowledge and ability to gain a greater independence, greater self-esteeem, and broader community involvement.
Circle of Friends is a nonprofit 501c3 Organization. We rely on charitable donations and our faithful sponsors to keep our program open and available to the IDD community. We would like to give a BIG thank you to all who have decided to invest in the lives of our disabled young adults.