What's a mother to do when she finds her community's door of opportunity locked and barred and the citizen's within her own town unaware of the needs of their most needy children?
In 1992 several mothers within Lake Wales and the surrounding communities found themselves asking that exact question. Without warning the Polk County School Board decided to uproot children from the Polk Life and Learning Center in Bartow and place them in thier local public schools with only the bare necessities. The Special need classes were within a mobile unit which had been placed on the backside of one of the oldest and poorest schools. It stood bare and unfurnished in the midst of Florida sugar sand. The sun blazed overhead without shade. Old sidewalks ended long before they reached the two classrooms. This made getting into the classroom extremely difficult for the children with developmental and/or physical disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs.
One mother was determined to awaken her sleepy little town to the families which had special needs. As if to hear a commanding officer yell "charge" she began the task of breaking down barriers of fear, ignorance, and prejudice. Despite the physical exhaustion and mental anguish she continued to beat on the doors of the old school, local churches, hospital, and YMCA. Then one one day in 1995, her persistance paid off. A room she could utilize opened up in the gym of the Lake Wales Assembly of God (IMPACT church). A small Sunday class for children with disabilities began. Today the church has a greater understanding of the special needs community because of the strides that Sunday class made in breaking down attitudal barriers. Non-disabled peers began to volunteer in that little classroom, forming wonderful friendships.
It was from that little Sunday school class that a non-profit organization, called Circle of Friends Ministry, was birthed. Its purpose was to blaze out a path within the community for special children. The doors of opportunity soon began to open for those children with special needs. It started in 1999 when Lake Wales and Kiwanis Club opened thier Easter egg hunt to physically and developmentally challanged children. Next in 2002 came the opportunity to display very special art in the Lake Wales Art Center. The doors opened and opportunities kept coming steadily. The Women's Club, VFW, Civic Clubs, and churches began to sponsor monthly social events and field trips. Financial support for the growing organization began taking root.
The Circle of Friends Ministry moved into its own building at 105 E. Stuart Avenue in downtown Lake Wales on December 23rd, 2003. It not only houses Administrative offices but a family room, an auditorium, and an educational area where the students partake in classes. It's a happy place where dreams come true and staff help their students to reach their God given potential!
Circle of Friends is a non-profit 501c3 Organization. We rely on charitable donations and our faithful sponsors to keep our program open and available to the special needs community. We would like to give a BIG thank you to all who have decided to invest in the lives of our special students.