15 Years of Friendship
Fifteen years ago, our story began with the coming together of four founding families — the Herndons, the Hamiltons, the Phillippis and Jennie Scott — and Suzanne Williams. It was around a dinner table that Friends Life Community (FLC) was born. These families spent countless hours advocating, dreaming, planning, and fundraising. Their mission was clear: to ensure their loved ones didn’t “graduate to the couch” after high school.
Recently, around another dinner table together, they spoke about those early days and the fear that motivated them to act. When asked if they had any funny memories of that time, the immediate response was, “No! It was a very serious time.”
15 Years of Belonging
Back then, it was a serious and daunting time. In Tennessee, individuals with special education needs “age out” of school when they turn 22 — that’s when the support system that has served as a lifeline for 17 years suddenly ends. These families knew that without FLC, isolation, regression, loneliness, and dependency would become the harsh reality for these incredible individuals.
As co-founder Jennie Scott puts it, “As we got close to age 22, we kind of dropped off a cliff.” But from this precipice, something extraordinary emerged.
15 Years of the Friends Finding Purpose
Today, when you walk into FLC, you’ll hear laughter, singing, and chatter. It is a vibrant, happy place, a real community. And yet, it’s crucial to remember that this incredible haven was born from the determination to prevent isolation and ensure these extraordinary individuals found their rightful place in society.
Fifteen years in, the vision of the founders, the passion of the friends, the dedication of the staff, and the support of the wonderful community have transformed a heartfelt idea into a movement. We’ve gone from ensuring four friends had a place to belong to supporting over 100 friends and impacting the lives of more than 200 family members.
As co-founder Jack Herndon aptly puts it, “It’s not like a child going to college. There’s not a next, natural step.”
But we are changing that. We are creating that “natural step” for individuals with disabilities, setting new standards, and raising the bar for what people deserve to expect after high school.
15 Years of Real Community
From the very beginning, community volunteering was woven into our curriculum. Today, the Friends have given over 40,000 hours of service to local nonprofits, extending their impact to serve the Nashville community.
Through job coaching and community engagement, over 54% of the Friends now have paid employment in the community. They’re not just participants; they are peers respected for their skills and talents.
The Friends are incredible artists, too! They have performed and showcased their artistic talents in front of more than 20,000 community members. From original screenplays performed at corporations, schools, nonprofits, and institutions, to self-advocacy film projects, to artwork exhibited in prestigious galleries like the Frist Art Museum, Zeitgeist Art Gallery, Belmont, Lipscomb, and Vanderbilt, they have entertained and educated others about all they have to contribute in the world.
The Friends are active, respected members of the Nashville community. Yet, they have a home base where they can be their authentic selves, and their families know they are safe.
15 Years and Growing
This year, as we celebrate our 15th anniversary, we are not just stronger; we’re unstoppable. What started as a ripple impact from four families and a community advocate has grown into the remarkable Friends Life Community. We are now 100 families and 1,000 community advocates strong. Just imagine what our unstoppable momentum can create in the next 15 years!
Thank you for being a part of our journey, and here’s to 15 more years of friendship, belonging, and purpose!