Breaking "Down's" Barriers

Some would say that the best friendships often bloom in the least expected places. This is exactly the story of Brittany and Lauriane, friends who now share more similarities than differences, but things weren’t always easy.

Lauriane is not one to sit aside when it comes to giving back. What started out as a compulsory program in high school became her own initiative to always look for new ways to give back to her community. Lauriane often participated in volunteer programs through her work but when she joined the Friendship Circle of Montreal it became a real game changer for her.

Each volunteer at the Friendship Circle gets partnered up with a special needs buddy for different activities like drama, music and even karate. Lauriane was a new face at Friendship Circle and worried if she would have a hard time fitting in. She wondered if the students would welcome an unfamiliar face and how long it would take before she was considered part of the team. While these are hesitations we have all experienced at one time or another, they can be especially heightened when meeting someone with special needs because it can be unfamiliar.

When in doubt, add sparkles!

When Lauriane was partnered with Brittany, a trendy 18 year old who happens to have Down Syndrome, she was a little bit nervous. Lauriane did not know what to expect and wondered if Brittany would feel comfortable because she was a new face in the program. They met on a Monday, during the art and yoga program. Lauriane had never met anyone with Down Syndrome much less hung out with them or made art together and especially never bonded over the Downward dog before.

When the girls first sat down together to make some art, Brittany did not seem that responsive. Lauriane tried to chat her up but Brittany was concentrating on her art and seemed too shy to answer.  Brittany loves her art projects and concentration is a must, so finding a way for the friends to bond was probably the most challenging part for them.

It was Brittany who broke the ice when she started pointing out the similarities between them. Both Lauriane and Brittany wear trendy glasses, have long brown hair, share the same taste in clothes and love to get their nails done. Lauriane says that Brittany pays attention to the smallest details, and will notice the funniest things. One day Lauriane had her nails painted a neutral colour, a change from her usual sparkly colours. Brittany noticed Lauriane was missing sparkles so she took some glue, glitter and added sparkles to her nails and fixed the problem.

Lauriane and Brittany have become great friends and hang out together outside the Friendship Circle too. The girls will make plans to grab a bite to eat, catch up and of course go and get their nails done together. Lauriane says she doesn’t feel like she’s volunteering. She sees Friendship Circle as a place she goes to hang out and have fun with her friend Brittany.

Friendship Circle offers programs and organizes events for anyone with special needs, regardless of age. Lauriane finds working with individuals with special needs really rewarding. She thought she could contribute and give back to her community, but it has given her so much in return. “The Centre is really inclusive. No one judges you there and everyone is your friend. The happiness is really contagious.” says Lauriane.

Lauriane often posts pictures and videos of her time at Friendship Circle. This has caught the attention of her other girlfriends, who see how much fun she is having and ask if they too can get involved. Lauriane says she is lucky to have met Brittany but knows that all the kids at the centre, are so welcoming, smart and creative.

There are many misconceptions surrounding individuals with special needs. Lauriane says that to some people it may sound like it must be really sad to be around those with special needs but it is actually the most rewarding part of her day. Knowing that she will see Brittany at the end of her day makes going into work on Monday’s that much more bearable for Lauriane. Friendship Circle is her happy place.

Lauriane said that hanging out with Brittany has made her realize we are much more alike than we are different. It is important to break down old ideas and perceptions we may hold about others. We may look different on the outside and come from different backgrounds but when we are together the difference is hard to recognize. We laugh at the same jokes, we like and dance to the same music, we all have the same desire to be accepted and have friends who like us.

 

By: Nina Sloma