FAYETTEVILLE, NC – Inside the home of Master Sgt. Ignacio Jimenez, David Poole, Danny Delgado, and Wesley Branch are photos of Margaret “Clair” Clark riding a bicycle.
The roommates didn’t know Clark, who died in 2012, but the room is given to her by her brother Dr. Franklin Clark called to mind.
It’s part of the Fayetteville Friendship House community approaching their sophomore year, bringing together students or young professionals with adults like Clair Clark who have special needs.
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And in December, Dr. Clark made another contribution – $ 20,000 per year over the next three years – to subsidize the monthly rent of $ 450 for young professionals or students in health care, allied health care, or human services who are willing to be roommates, mentors and friends of adults with special needs.
Jimenez is already one of those mentors, becoming the first soldier to join the community that sits between Broadfoot and Highland Streets near the Highland Presbyterian Church.
He has been in the Army for 14 years and is a graduate student and recruiter assigned to a battalion that helps recruit warrant officers for special operations.
He has been married throughout his career in the Army and is considered a geographic bachelor because his job requires him to travel regularly.
His wife and baby live in California, where Jimenez said his wife has a family support system.
While looking for affordable housing on site, he came across the Fayetteville Friendship House.
“To be able to answer and to help and only to be there for people who may not have as much experience with life as I do. To be only there for them is what I find most rewarding to be here”, said Jimenez.
The young professionals who are roommates of an adult with special needs are not their caregivers, but friends who encourage their roommates to develop skills to live independently.
There are three young professionals or students who are asked to live with a “friend,” an adult with special needs, to make a total of 24 people who can live in the Friendship House community.
Jimenez, Delagado, and Poole are with Wesley Branch, who has lived at the Fayetteville Friendship House for about a year and three months.
“Overall, I think I enjoyed it pretty much,” said Branch. “We had stuff on Sunday night… very little time with other roommates. Socially, my favorite pastime was playing bridge or golf. “
Another Branch roommate, Poole, has been at the Fayetteville Friendship House for about 18 months and is in his third year of Fayetteville State University.
Originally a major in criminal justice, he decided to switch to sociology to help people with disabilities.
“It really gave me a passion to do that,” he said. “Being here definitely changed my life a lot… I have a brother who is autistic and I’ve lived with him all my life and that gave me some experience of living here and I realized it better suited me to talk to and relate to these people. “
Katie Huddy lives next to Jimenez, Delgado, Branch and Poole and has lived at the Fayetteville Friendship House since July.
Huddy is a licensed mental health counselor at Cape Fear Behavioral Health Center who learned about the program through her sister, a medical student at Methodist University.
“I have a disability myself, so I can relate to them a bit …” said Huddy, who uses forearm crutches to aid her mobility. “I think it’s very helpful just for me too, so that I can understand people with different disabilities, be it autism or Down syndrome or (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or something like that, I can at least somehow understand how they deal with it. how to deal with it … what works. “
The concept for the Fayetteville Friendship House began with Scott Cameron, a local neonatal intensive care physician, who attended Duke University’s Divinity School and was part of a similar program when living with a roommate with Down syndrome.
He brought the program to Fayetteville with the hope that the experience will impact those in the health care sector to gain a better understanding of working with patients with special needs.
Huddy’s “boyfriend” is Brooke Strickland, who has been a friend for 18 months.
Since moving in, Strickland has experience scheduling her own appointments and managing her premises and has worked for Fort Bragg Food Services.
“I like climbing,” Strickland said of one of the activities she enjoyed with a former roommate and Delgado.
During the coronavirus pandemic, residents of the Fayetteville Friendship House adapted to smaller activities, said Tara Hinton, director of regional philanthropy at ServiceSource.
ServiceSource, which provides vocational training, employment programs, and services for people with disabilities, is helping manage Friendship House Fayetteville as a tenant of land donated by the nearby Highland Presbyterian Church.
All residents wear masks when interacting with other friends or young professionals who do not live in their home, Hinton said.
Weekly family campus nights, community dinners, farmers market events, and community events are put on hold.
The size of group interactions is limited, weekly prayer meetings are virtual, and “Friends” residents participate in a weekly virtual independent skills program through ServiceSource to manage skills such as laundry, cooking and finances.
The sense of community remains, however, as everyone takes precautionary measures.
Michael Brown is a “friend” and student of computer science at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
“I’m kind of a baker here,” said Brown, who specializes in making red velvet, chocolate mint, and lemon truffles, as well as tiramisu and cheesecake.
Michael is one of the original friends who have lived in the ward for two years and say this is the first time he has lived alone.
“It’s a really rewarding experience – just being able to share my baked goods with the community,” he said.
And Hinton said it was just as “rewarding” for the young professionals.
Huddy agreed with Hinton.
“Not only can I live alone for the first time, but I can also help other people like Brooke learn independent life skills and life skills beyond that,” she said. “And you’ll have friends right away when you come here. Everyone is very helpful and very warm. “
Jimenez, who thought moving away from California could mean being alone again, said he won another bonus family.
“I feel so fulfilled to live here,” he said. “Everyone is great.”
While Hinton said there is a waiting list for “friends” who can live at the Fayetteville Friendship House for up to four years, there are some positions for young professionals or students ages 21 to 39 in health care and sociology and professions in the area of human services.
She said it was hoped that just as the community was supporting campaigns to build the Fayetteville Friendship House, it was looking for Clark’s grant to help residents afford life in space.
She said two former professional residents, Victor Campbell and Chasity Sullivan, are examples of how the community also benefits from Friendship House.
Everyone planned to leave Fayetteville by the end of the two-year program.
Campbell now works for Cape Fear Valley Health and Sullivan for a private medical practice.
“Your experience at Friendship House changed the way your future will go,” she said. “And we benefit as a community because we now have these two great individuals who we would lose and who will now work in our fellowship – give back, go to our churches … We bring these wonderful individuals here too, but we keep them because of their experience . “
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