Twenty years ago, Shawn Friedkin was newly married with a 2-year-old daughter, a thriving career and a lifetime of opportunity ahead of him. In the time it took for an 18-wheel truck to swerve into his lane, life as he knew it changed. Friedkin veered to avoid the truck; his car skidded off the road and flipped repeatedly. He was airlifted to a local hospital, but doctors could not repair the damage to his spinal cord. Friedkin would never walk again.
“That was my introduction to the world of disability,” he says.
It also presented Friedkin with opportunity of a different kind. In 1997, he launched a Boca-based nonprofit to serve the disabled in our community. Stand Among Friends, headquartered at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Nursing (777 Glades Road, 561/297-4400), provides educational services and business resources to those with physical and cognitive disabilities. The center offers a variety of career services, including job interview training and placement opportunities, vocational evaluations, mentoring and counseling programs.
“We’ve placed [more than] 600 people in jobs in the toughest economy I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” Friedkin says. “We’ve done it by thinking out of the box, by developing programs that didn’t exist, with internships and apprenticeships, on-the-job training programs, and by working with good employers that are willing to sit down and work through problems and come up with solutions.”
One solution offered by Stand Among Friends is the development of technology skills at its on-site lab. By becoming proficient with mouth-controlled joysticks, hands-free computer mice, eye-trackers, word prediction software, digital pens and more, members of the disabled community can not only compete but thrive in the workplace.
“One thing we are not doing is teaching people a trade,” Friedkin says. “We are working with people that have a college degree. We are helping them get that experience, and use that education in the workplace.”
Stand Among Friends also works with the state to provide added employment related services, which can vary from vocational rehabilitation to a new pair of eyeglasses. As rewarding as the work has been, it’s not without its share of obstacles, Friedkin says—including the constant battle against existing stereotypes.
But it’s a battle that Friedkin and his organization will never stop fighting.
“[We’re getting] the word out that there are people with disabilities who want to work—and have successful employment. [We want to] show what people with disabilities and determination can accomplish.”
For more information, visit standamongfriends.org.
Save the Date
Join Stand Among Friends for its third annual “Emb(race),” an all-inclusive family 5K and 10K walk/run Feb. 24, 2013.
Dining in the Dark
“Lights Out” is a visually impaired dining experience that will take place over three nights in October at locations in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and South Beach. The event will provide a distinctive opportunity for diners to enjoy a gourmet meal at one of three restaurants, while wearing a mask to experience the challenges visually impaired individuals face while dining out.
This is the first event to showcase Stand Among Friends umbrella organization, Ability Explosion.
Light’s out in Ft. Lauderdale will take place at Dapur on Wednesday October 17th at 7 p.m
Address: 1620 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33305
For Palm Beach county residents “Lights Out” will take place at Rosso Italia in Boca Raton on Thursday, October 18th at 7 p.m.
Address: 1901 N Military Trail, Boca Raton, FL 33486
Light’s out in South Beach will take place at Red on Wednesday October 24th at 7 p.m.
Address: 119 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139