‘The Friend Ship’ Ministry Launched to Help Young Adults with Disabilities Make Friends

Everyone needs a friend, a place to belong, and a community. This can be difficult for persons with disabilities who struggle with making and keeping friends.

Michele Ciofalo, a parishioner of St. Ann, Emmaus, is familiar with this struggle. As an occupational therapist, parent, and now grandparent of a young adult with disabilities, she was inspired to start “The Friend Ship,” a ministry for young adults (ages 19 to 35) with disabilities. Young adults with autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, intellectual, social, or physical disabilities are welcome.

“When my oldest daughter joined our family, we quickly learned that she had lifelong special needs impacting her learning, behavior, and social development,” said Ciofalo. “Her biggest struggle was making and keeping friends. Her loneliness broke our hearts and made her vulnerable to poor choices.”

Ciofalo and her husband Carl Webster are now raising their grandson, Justin, 19, who serves St. Ann as an usher (along with his service dog Lego), is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and helps in many capacities around the church. “Even with these activities, he longs for a friend,” said Ciofalo.

The Friend Ship was introduced in October at an open house and meets the third Sunday of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. at St. Ann’s Parish Life Center, 526 Fairview St.

A variety of crafts with pumpkins were available at the October meeting, including decorating with stickers, painting, and carving, all for different abilities. Adult coloring was also available, and refreshments.

The November meeting featured a service project – packing bags with personal care products, candy, and a prayer, and delivering them to men at the Allentown Rescue Mission.

At the next meeting, Dec. 17, group members will decorate Christmas cookies, sing carols, and make an ornament.

As a Church ministry, meetings will begin and end with prayer, and include service projects. Upcoming activities will be based on members’ preferences and needs, and foster friendships through fun, service, and spiritual activities. They will highlight Church observances such as Easter, saint feast days such as St. Francis of Assisi, and other notable times of the liturgical year.

Ciofalo launched the group with the help of several volunteers, many of whom have experience with adults with disabilities: Donna Sousa, Megan Clee, Derek Demchak, Ralphael and Michele Parise, Lauren Friedman, and Mary Jane Fair. Parish liaison is Christine Kimock.

As more meetings are held and group members get to know each other, “We really want it to become organic,” said Ciofalo. “That it’s a group that they become friends, that it’s a group they can reach out to, to do other things with.”

Participants are asked to sign up at https://forms.gle/uformXcchgBNapWC7. For questions, email Ciofalo at mciofalo@comcast.net.


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