It is hard to believe that another year has almost come to an end.  Come February 2020, we will have been at 4414 Granny White Pike for nine years.  And with a heart full of gratitude for all our volunteers, community partners, donors, families and Friends, we have so much to celebrate.

In the last year the Friends continued impacting the local community by serving over 80 volunteer hours per week at local nonprofits such as Christ Presbyterian Church, Project C.U.R.E., Room In the Inn, the Nashville Food Project, and Meals On Wheels.  Edley’s BBQ signed on as FLC’s first Inclusive Employment Partner and is advising our training series that will launch next month to train management staff and employees on inclusive employment.  The development of the training is funded by Tennessee Disability Coalition.  Our goal with this initiative is to increase employment rates for the Friends beyond the current 53%, and increase retention by equipping company leadership with the tools to improve inclusive workplace culture overall.

In 2019, the Friends have taken the stage in new ways, telling their stories through the arts.  The Friends have written films, songs, plays, and performances, and have displayed personal works of art for over 2,000 people to enjoy.  The Friends’ advocacy flags became a traveling exhibit and were displayed at Montgomery Bell Academy and The University School of Nashville for hundreds to see. The Friends built confidence, broke down barriers, and formed new friendships in 2019 because of the opportunities created through the community’s support.

Looking ahead to 2020, the Friends’ art will be on exhibit at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center; they will be premiering their film, Everyone Deserves a Place to Belong, featuring former Mayor Briley, Metro Nashville Police, Nashville Predators Captain Roman Josi, and the TN Titans; they will be showcasing Season 2 of Advocacy Through the Arts, empowering individuals with disabilities to tell their story; and they are undertaking their most dynamic season of Tandem Troupe. We have been talking with The Store at Belmont about a formal partnership to start in 2020 that would allow the Friends to get real-world experience working in a grocery store while serving an important population in Nashville.

Through our capacity-building programs we now serve over 60 Friends and their families.  This includes our one-on-one life and job coaching programs as well as drama therapy.  In addition, Disability Arts Access in Rural Tennessee (DAART) now serves 12 individuals in its second year.  This is a program initiated by FLC’s performing arts specialist, Sarah Edwards, in her hometown in rural Carroll County. Through this program she trains local teaching artists as they lead inclusive programming for adults with IDD to self-advocate through different arts modalities.  Many of these Friends have never participated in arts classes and were sitting at home with little to no programming.  A former Friend, Sarah, who participated in the Nashville day program until she moved back to West Tennessee once again gets to participate in FLC because of this satellite program. We are excited to have DAART supported in part by the Council on Developmental Disabilities.

All of these accolades and successes are due in part to the unwavering support of our community.  We are overwhelmed by the opportunities the Friends receive each day because of the foresight and generosity of others.  As 2019 comes to an end we are grateful for the opportunity to create a place where everyone belongs.

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