By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
EDGEWATER -- Children and teens with special needs will soon have a place all their own where they can go and "hang out" with kids their age who share similar challenges and be free of the expectations, judgments and torment that often is a part of their daily lives.
Sharon Purdie, mother of a special needs teenager, is creator and coordinator of Friendzone, a special place for children with special needs. "I have developed this organization because I strongly believe all children should have the chance to participate in all activities. I want these children to shine, laugh and smile, even if for a short moment," she said.
"I want to give children a safe place they can go to," Ms. Purdie said. "So often they are judged by what they can't do or how they talk or act and others treat them differently. I hope to offer them a place where they can just relax and be themselves around others their age and I want to help them participate in activities that interest them without all the frustration or being rushed or bullied."
Ms. Purdie was inspired to begin Friendzone because of everything her 15-year-old son has gone through. "My son has scoliosis and DiGeorge's Syndrome and with that comes a lot of seizures. Throughout his life, other children at school have teased him and made fun of him because of the way he talks and even hit him with a belt buckle while he was riding the bus," she said.
She got the idea for Friendzone after her son started treatment at Children's Therapy Network and spoke with other parents of special needs children that were going through the same thing. She realized there was a need for these children to have social interaction with their peers in a safe and friendly environment.
Ms. Purdie is in the process of establishing Friendzone as a non-profit organization and registering the name. She has been doing research locally on the need for the organization, the availability of activities for the children and the reception of the community and businesses to Friendzone.
"I would like to keep it local to Edgewater and New Smyrna Beach and the immediate area nearby," Ms. Purdie said. "Usually travel with special needs children is not an easy thing for parents and having all the activities local would be easier."
She has been receiving help from SCORE with her business plan and with getting liability insurance, and has spoken to Legal Aid and AVVO for legal advice.
"I want to set it up correctly right from the start because I don't want to run into some problem down the road that might cause it to shut down," she said. "That would be very disappointing to the children and the whole purpose is to build their confidence and boost their spirits."
She is starting out cautiously, even though she has a couple of activities planned already.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, she is coordinating a free movie night for anyone and in particular for all local special needs children and their parents at the Rotary Club at 2347 S. Ridgewood Ave., (Pelican Plaza in Edgewater). The movie is Iron Man 3 and there will be some refreshments available for a small fee and donations are welcome. All proceeds from the refreshments will go toward helping special needs children.
"The Rotary Club and the New Smyrna Beach Library have already agreed to let me use some of their rooms for our activities," said Ms. Purdie. "We are also very thankful to Chik-fil-A in Edgewater for hosting our upcoming car wash on Nov. 9."
The donations will allow Friendzone to buy materials and supplies for projects and workshops, such as "Gardening for Seniors" and a "Cooking Workshop" for the children. The car wash will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Chik-fil-A at 10 Indian River Blvd. in Edgewater.
Part of Ms. Purdie's vision for Friendzone is to provide workshops and activities for the special needs children to bolster their confidence and teach them different skills as well as provide social interaction in a friendly environment. She is looking for people to donate their time and talent in several different areas, such as cooking, arts and crafts, gardening, sewing, reading, tutoring and teaching employment skills. She plans to coordinate a variety of age appropriate workshops and programs for small groups and emphasized that all children must be accompanied by an adult (parent or caregiver) when participating in a Friendzone activity.
"Our workshops would give them a hands-on opportunity to enjoy and experience their many different interests in their own amazing and beautiful ways," Ms. Purdie said. "We will ensure a safe environment and a place they can forget their restrictions and be proud of their achievements and love who they are."
During the holidays, she plans to organize a visit to the Ocean View Nursing Home where the children will sing Christmas carols and visit with the residents. "It is a great experience for the children and the patients just love it," she said.
Ms. Purdie has first-hand experience with the elderly as a certified nursing assistant for many years in assisted living facilities and now working with them in their own homes. "I often take my son with me when I go to visit one of my shut-ins and he has a great time." she said. "They always like to see him and he usually gives them a big hug before we leave."
She feels her son has benefited just as much as her patients from those visits and would like to give other children that same feeling of giving and helping others.
"I also think the children need to have time to develop relationships with others that are going through the same things," she said.
Her son has benefited tremendously from his therapy sessions at Children's Therapy Network at 1600 S. Ridgewood Ave. in Edgewater.
"He has made some friends there and can talk freely and it has made a world of difference," she said. "This is the first year he has ever said he likes school and it is because of all the hard work he has done through his therapy."
She wants to host a social on Nov. 30 for local special needs teenagers and their parents.
"It will be potluck and give the teens a place to hangout and be themselves," she said, "but I am still looking for a place to hold it."
She has distributed flyers around the community to find out how many parents are interested, but has not gotten much response.
"I want the parents to know this is just a night where their child can meet other children with similar problems and just be themselves and have fun," she said. "They will be able to do whatever they want to do and act silly if they want to or run around and be crazy -- it doesn't matter. This night is for them."
She also is working on a project to teach the children gardening skills and help elderly homeowners that physically cannot tend to their flowerbeds or mow the lawn anymore. "I need some more volunteers to work with the children to show them how to plant flowers or put in more dirt or mulch around the plants," Ms. Purdie said. "I see it as a win-win for the kids and the people they are helping."
For more information about Friendzone, call (386) 416-9822 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.