It all started with a passionate early intervention educator and a motivated parent.
Circle of Friends was founded in the fall of 2018 by Jenn Davis and Katie Urhausen – two individuals who came together over one simple concept: youth with severe needs and medical hurdles are just like anyone else – they deserve opportunities. As the families of these individuals will attest, day-to-day life navigating the complex needs of a child is complicated enough, so having the guidance and resources from a supportive community should not be. And as a special education teacher and a mother of a child with complex needs, respectively, Jenn and Katie are motivated to facilitate change.
Youth with rare or undiagnosed syndromes, who don’t fit into larger categories like Autism or Down Syndrome, are often wrongfully viewed as the “other” or “those kids” (yes, “those kids” is a term we have regretfully heard in environments that are supposed to be progressive and inviting). Youth with complex needs tend to require more equipment, more medical care, and do not fit into a one-size-fits-all form of special education, like so many classrooms are structured today (here in Lane County, these classrooms are called “Life Skills”). Back in 2018, Katie realized that there was no central hub for youth with complex needs and their families; no specialized and centralized support system for children like her daughter Jovie. She thought that if there were not options for families with complex youth, it was time to make one. So she emailed Jenn, her child’s former early intervention teacher (who happens to be a legend in Lane County), and asked her thoughts on building a non-profit, and Jenn replied with a resounding “YES!” And the rest is – or will be – history.
As you can imagine, COVID has been a really big nail in our tire. Children who already experience medical concerns as their norm now have to face an unknown and highly contagious virus. Despite these challenges, and Circle of Friends being unable to offer in-person events and camps, we still have goals. Yes, they are big, but yes, they are attainable. Here is what we offer, and envision, in three parts:
We believe that by building a gathering place for children, youth, and their families, we can break the cycle of isolation and provide essential support to those on this unique journey. Through respite care events, day camps, summer programming, and family-friendly events, we are building up natural supports and friendships that will keep our families strong.
Access + Training
(On the horizon)
Through an onsite lending library and with the support of our community partners, we want to provide youth and families with the equipment they need to promote mobility, harness communication, increase play and recreation, and improve access to the larger Lane County community. We will give youth and families access to necessary and alternative therapies such as music/movement, aquatics, dog therapy, etc. Access to these needed supports promotes self-confidence, independence, and self-esteem. Through training, Circle of Friends will be the gathering place for parents, professionals, and community partners to share wisdom, experience, expertise, and strategies to help empower their youth and increase participation in their homes, community, and school environments.
For families who want an alternative educational placement that provides year-round programming to youth grades Pre-K to 8th, Circle of Friends will provide appropriate support and individualized learning opportunities that maximize youth participation, amplify youth voices, expands mobility, and fosters independence in a supported community of professionals, volunteers, and parents.
Figure out what breaks your heart in the world. That’s your purpose. Find the folks working to fix that thing and join them. Those are your people.
Let’s build something beautiful together.