Seaside United Methodist Church Starts a Special Friends Group
The idea percolated in her mind for years before Mary Jordan of Supply, in conjunction with Seaside United Methodist Church in Sunset Beach, fashioned a unique support group named Special Friends of Seaside. The group is for young adults with special needs, specifically physical disabilities. The goal is for members to socialize and have recreational activities.
“They have mobility issues,” Mary says, and explains that her daughter, Lynn Jacobs, is 31 and is wheelchair bound with spina bifida. This condition is a birth anomaly in which the spine doesn’t close entirely during fetal development.
Two other women in the group, Lindsey Mason, 35, and Nicole Swanson, 28, both of Carolina Shores, also have the disability.
“I have the worst type,” Nicole says, her face beaming a broad smile.
Her mother, Vivian Swanson, nods her agreement and explains that the severity depends on where the opening in the spine is.
Nicole’s positive attitude is evident when she displays her arms. “Stay Strong” is tattooed on her left forearm while a colorful music staff is on her right. “I wanted something meaningful,” she says. “My parents have always taught me that I’m strong and a trooper.” She explains that the music staff is because she’s a fan of singer/actress Demi Lovato. She motions to Lindsey. “She’s just as strong as I am.”
“I’m not a quitter,” Lindsey says.
Vivian explains that she is Nicole’s birth mother but also claims Lindsey as her daughter. Lindsey’s father died of sepsis in 2012 and her mother died in an auto accident in 2015, so Vivian and her husband, Richard, legally became Lindsey’s guardians.
Another member of the group is April Anders, 38, of Shallotte. “She was very excited about coming and meeting new friends,” says her mother, Kathy, who explains that April has Down syndrome.
Amy and Dwayne Simmons of Ash, whose son, Justin, has autism, accompanied him to the meeting.
“I like the people here,” Justin, 20, says. “They make you feel welcome. They are very friendly.”
The group met for the first time in October 2016 and invite other young people with physical disabilities to join them. An activity follows a light supper.
“We have a laid-back structure,” Mary says. “We want students to get comfortable. As long as we keep them engaged, we’ll keep them interested.” Future meetings that are in the works include game night, an outing to Planet Fun in Shallotte, a cookout and meeting service animals.
“This is a wonderful new ministry,” says Sandra Shuford, president of the church’s United Methodist Women. “How lucky I am to be here with members of our community. This church is like a little village.”
“This is really exciting,” says Mary Jane Wilson-Parsons, co-pastor with her husband, Scott Wilson-Parsons, at SUMC. “We’ve been trying to get this group started. We are thrilled that it has gotten underway. Our focus is on physical disabilities, but we’re broadening that.” She, along with Mary, Naomi Harder and Jim O’Neill, formed the committee that makes this group a reality.
“If God is leading us in a different direction, we will follow,” says Naomi, Nicole’s grandmother. She explains that there is no other group in the area that caters to young people with special needs, and Vivian agrees.
“We were convinced they are here,” Vivian says. “They need to socialize and be with each other and meet people.”
“This has given the [group members] a safe place to go,” Mary says. “We’re all just learning now. We always ask what they want to do. We want them to be the leaders. We want them to own the group.” She nods. “Everyone is looking for a place to belong, and I think we found it here.”