By: Lauren B. Zook

I often think about a tour I gave a few years ago to a local developer. Upon his arrival to the FLC house he was happily greeted by the Friends as soon as he got to the door. As we walked through the building, I explained how the Friends were thriving in the community. We discussed why the program was started — because four families were facing the fearful question, “What is going to happen after my child graduates high school?”  

As we were walking around, the gentleman was very quiet and took it all in. Usually, I get questions about finances, cost, staff qualifications … but this tour was different. As we walked back upstairs from the art studio, he quietly turned to me and said, “You know, I never once thought about what happened to all the Friends in my high school after we graduated. I knew they were there; I saw them in the hallways … I went off to college, got married, started a career, and had a family, but not once did I think of the Friends and where they ended up.”  

Liz and AC at high school graduation

Imagine now that you are a parent of a Friend: You never stop thinking and planning for the future and how your child will “end up.” Your child will be dependent on care for the rest of their lives. But you know that at some point you, their parent, will not be able to provide that lifelong care and you begin to worry: Who is going to care for my child? How will they know they are loved? Who will they celebrate their birthday with? Who will they call when they are having a bad day? There are thousands of questions running through your mind on a daily basis from the moment your child is born.  

Steve, Tristan’s dad, recently told us, “Since Tristan was born, I have worried and never stopped planning ahead for when I am no longer able to care for him anymore. When Tristan is at Friends Life Community, I don’t worry.” As a single parent, Steve is often alone in this fight. Steve cares for his aging mother, works a full-time job, and is the sole caregiver for Tristan. Friends Life Community has extended Steve’s capacity to support Tristan and multiply the opportunities he is able to provide to his son. 

When Tristan came to FLC, he was nonverbal, but with the advocacy and support of staff, Tristan acquired a communication device and uses it to make decisions, ask questions, and give his opinion — to have a voice. Friends Life Community was able to provide Steve the guidance to set up this device and help teach Tristan to use it. This one enhancement has given Tristan the ability to advocate for himself, providing his father the peace of mind knowing that Tristan now has a voice others can hear, appreciate, and understand when his father is no longer able to care for him. 

I love watching the video below of Tristan using his communication device to introduce himself at The Store. The talker has provided ways for Tristan to engage in the community and to be heard. To see his excitement and joy is priceless. 

As the year comes to an end, I kindly ask you to support parents, like Steve, who depend on Friends Life to be the community their child needs. By giving to Friends Life Community, you provide the immeasurable gift that each parent wishes for — peace of mind. Knowing that the person they love most in this world is safe, cared for and valued, and will always have a place to belong when they can no longer care for their child, is something that every parent deserves.

Waverly Ann Harris, M.S.ABA

Lauren B. Zook, Director of Philanthropy. Lauren joined Friends Life Community in August of 2018 with more than 17 years of experience in creating and implementing nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Having led in a variety of philanthropy roles in the educational, humanities, social service, and independent school realms, Lauren provides leadership in areas of fundraising, corporate social responsibility, and community outreach.

Lauren is a graduate from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Lauren and her husband, Mark, have lived in Nashville for over 18 years and have two children.

Phone: (615) 730-9370