In May 2018, Cooperative for Human Services joined a collaborative effort with The ARC of Massachusetts and MA Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to participate in the Pathways to Friendship Project. The mutual goal is to elevate efforts in social inclusion by advancing relationships and friendships among people with and without disabilities. The initiative required a 2-year commitment of time and attention on the part of the organization to focus on the promotion of relationships. The ARC’s role is to provide facilitation, consultation and support while DDS continues to refine its Quality Enhancement tools and processes around social inclusion.

The company identified a cross-functional team of five project leaders who in turn, assessed and selected eight individuals of varying needs to participate in the initiative. Participants were evaluated with a survey to determine their baseline level of activities and will undergo an intermediate and end-point survey to collect data. On-going approaches to activities and participation in community events are documented regularly across the initiative and shared with the ARC. Project leaders meet with and share what is learned with other Pathways to Friendship teams based in 24 other member agencies in Massachusetts.

Over the last few months, the project team has made notable progress with the individuals selected. Once their interests were identified, participants began to explore their chosen areas of interest with staff. These include becoming a volunteer at a local shelter, delving into the world of comic book art, participating in monthly car modeling clubs, and making connections through local churches and YMCAs. It is the hope that through this initial experience, individuals will create meaningful ties with non-disabled people who can assist them to become contributing members of their communities.

As a Pathways to Friendships partner, the company was eligible to apply for a one-time Florence Finkle Fund grant on behalf of each participant. Florence Finkle was an original member of The ARC of Massachusetts and an advocate on behalf of people with developmental disabilities. All eight of the CHS participants received grants this year to assist them with purchases including club membership dues, sports equipment, appropriate church clothing, transportation to events and other types of supports. 

As the project nears its mid-point assessment, there is great excitement in the air as participants form long-term friendships in the community and share new hobbies with like-minded enthusiasts.