Lynn Jacobs, 31, says she is teaching tricks to Precious Noel, her 18-month old Chiweenie — a cross between a Chihuahua and dachshund — and enjoys spending time with her and Miss Aallee, her 16-year old Chihuahua. A Supply, N.C. resident, Jacobs adds, “I love to sing,” and uses that talent in the choir at Seaside United Methodist Church in Sunset Beach, N.C. She also looks forward to attending the gatherings of Special Friends of Seaside at the church. This ministry began in October 2016 and is designed specifically for those 18-40 who have a disability and can manage their own personal needs. Parents are encouraged to attend as well. Jacobs was born with spina bifida (see side bar) and uses a wheelchair for mobility.
Three more young women with spina bifida have joined the group as well as two women with Down syndrome, a man with autism and four with intellectual limitations. The group welcomes others with disabilities.
Each meeting includes socialization, an activity and a complete dinner with salad, entrée, dessert and beverage that volunteers contribute. A few of the activities thus far include making the name tags they wear at meetings, painting a picture, designing a Mother’s Day card and watching The Secret Life of Pets. Bowling is on the agenda for June.
Justin Simmons, 21, of Ash, N.C. has autism and attends meetings with his parents, Amy and Dwayne Simmons. “You don’t worry about feeling out of place,” Amy says. “You feel at home and one of the family.”
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Justin agrees. “I like the people here,” he says. “They make you feel welcome. They are very friendly.”
Amy explains that Justin is a social butterfly around their neighborhood, especially with senior citizens. “He likes to make sure everyone is okay,” she says.
Lindsey Mason, 35, and Nicole Swanson, 28, both have spina bifida and live together in the Swanson home in Carolina Shores, N.C. Mason’s father died of sepsis in 2012, and her mother died in a motorcycle accident in 2015. Nicole’s parents, Vivian and Richard Swanson, stepped in and invited Mason to live with them. They have since become the woman’s guardians.
“I am Nicole’s birth mother, but I consider Lindsey my daughter, too,” Vivian says.
“Lindsey’s as strong as I am,” Nicole says, and lifts her left arm. Tattooed across the lower part is “Stay Strong.” A music staff and musical notes decorate her right upper arm. “My parents have always taught me that I’m strong and a trooper,” she says.
“I’m not a quitter [either],” Mason adds.
Another member of the group is April Anders, 39, of Shallotte, who has Down syndrome.
“She was very excited about coming and meeting new friends,” says her mother, Kathy Anders. April participates in the activities and socializes with everyone.
Vivian explains that the ministry came about because church members were concerned that there were no groups for adults with special needs. “We were convinced there were people [locally] with disabilities,” she says. “They need to socialize and be with each other and meet people.”
Jacobs’ mother, Mary Jordan, along with SUMC co-pastor Mary Jane Wilson-Parsons, congregant Jim McNeill, Vivian Swanson and her mother, Naomi Harder, formed the committee to organize this ministry. They contacted local churches but came up empty. McNeill dug deeper and found Matthew’s Ministry at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, KS. It happened that the director of that program is from North Carolina and vacations in Oak Island, so SUMC arranged a meeting. “They gave us everything we needed, and [our ministry] took off,” McNeill says.
“We want it to be enlightening and fun,” Jordan says. “As long as we keep them engrossed, we’ll keep them interested.”
“This is really exciting,” Wilson-Parsons says. “We’ve been trying to get it started for some time. We are thrilled that it has gotten underway.”
“Our goal is to give them recreation, a safe environment and a place to belong,” Jordan says. “Everyone is looking for a place to belong. I think we found it here.”
Disabilities explained simply
Here are basic definitions of the disabilities mentioned in the Special Friends article and links for more information.
Autism | www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm.html; www.autism-society.org
Also referred to as autism spectrum disorder, this is a group of disorders with a wide range of symptoms, skills and levels. It affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. About one in 68 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder.
Justin Simmons, 21, was diagnosed with autism when he was five, says his mother, Amy Simmons. “He’s a social butterfly and buys gifts for others,” Amy says. Justin, 21, has a twin, Benjamin, who does not have autism.
Down syndrome | www.ndss.org
The nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, but in Down syndrome, chromosome 21 has a partial or full extra set. About one in 700 babies born in the U.S., that is 6,000 babies each year, has Down syndrome.
Intellectual limitations | aaidd.org/intellectual-disability/definition
Intelligence includes learning, reasoning and problem solving. The main symptoms are difficulty thinking and understanding. Certain conceptual, social, and practical skills can be affected. An I.Q. test with a result of 75 or below shows limited intelligence. Special education and behavioral therapy are ways to help a person develop their mental powers. More than 3 million cases of limited intelligence are diagnosed in the U. S. each year.
Spina Bifida | www.spinabifidaassociation.org
The term means “split spine.” It occurs when a baby’s spinal column isn’t totally closed. Everyday about eight babies born in the U.S. have this or a similar brain-spine disability.
“I didn’t know what spina bifida was,” says Mary Jordan, Lynn Jacobs’ mother (see Special Friends article). “[Medical professionals] said she’d never survive. They gave her eight days or eight months.” Jacobs is 31 years old.
“About half of her spine was open,” says Naomi Harder, Nicole Swanson’s grandmother. “She’s had about 40 operations.” Swanson is 28.
March of Dimes | www.marchofdimes.org
Originally organized to combat polio, it now focuses on infant mortality and preventing birth defects.
Services for adults with disabilities | www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/foradults