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Jeff, 27, and Jamie, 33, live in group homes. Both have tried to get paying jobs, but no employers would consider hiring them. Jeff has schizophrenia, and Jamie has Down Syndrome.

An average day looks similar for both. Assistants at their group homes help them get ready for the day. Both take buses to day programming facilities staffed by county workers. They take busses home again in the afternoon. Assistants help them with meal preparation and bedtime routines. Both live in good group homes that are clean, caring, and provide evening activities. Trips to the mall, movie nights, game nights, and an occasional minor league ball game, are part of their lives. Their group home brings them to church on Sundays.

What is missing from this picture? Before I answer that, I’ll affirm that life could be much worse for both of them. They both live in locations that allow for funding and quality care so that they can live in the least restrictive and the most self-directed environments possible for them. So what’s missing? Except for fellow residents and fellow attendees at their day program, all of their contact with other people is with people who are paid to be with them. Friendships are missing.

This same fact holds true for most older adults who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Let’s call her Jane; she has dementia. She lives at Primrose Garden, an excellent care facility for older people. Caring staff dress her, bathe her, feed her, and bring her to activities nearly every day. But except for her daily contact with fellow residents, all of her human contact is with people paid to be with Jane.

Staff, even caring staff, are not the same as friends. Friends don’t expect to be paid to be in relationship with their friends. If I found out that one of my friends was paid to be with me, I would be offended.

Friendship is a missing link in the lives of many people with disabilities, including many older adults. Besides the members of your own church who live in these facilities, many others live in the nursing homes and group homes in your community. Do you know where these homes are? Is your church reaching out to them?

Many churches have formed Friendship groups that really do provide the opportunity for genuine friendships among people who have and others who do not have intellectual disabilities. Some churches have found other ways to reach out to local group homes and nursing homes. A few churches run group homes themselves.

Consider how your church can reach out to the residents of the nearby group home and nursing home. Consider how you might develop a friendship with one of the residents; not out of pity, but out of the opportunity for mutual enrichment and appreciation. Jeff, Jamie, and Jane will benefit, and so will you.

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