As its first year comes to a close, residents of the Friendship House—which unites Duke Divinity students and individuals with developmental and learning disabilities under one roof—reflect on the project as a success.
The two adjacent Friendship Houses, located off-campus, are divided into upstairs and downstairs apartments and managed as a collaboration between the Duke Divinity School and charitable groups HopeSpring Village, Reality Ministries and the Arc of North Carolina. Each apartment lodges three Duke students and one person with a developmental disability—a “friend.”
“[The Friendship House] has shifted the way that I see people, see what is normal and see what the aim of life is,” said Friendship House Director Greg Little, a graduate student at the Duke Divinity School. “And it’s helped me be grounded in really simple friendships.”
The houses are located in an “intentional neighborhood,” in which Friendship House and Reality Ministries have partnered to transform a street with deserted houses into a place that could serve as a welcoming home for individuals with disabilities, said house director Nikki Raye Rice, also a graduate student at the Divinity School.
“To be embedded within this neighborhood is a great gift,” said Little. “This expands our identity a bit because we’re not just Friends and student residents, but we’re part of this larger cohesive life.”
He noted that the partnership between Reality Ministries and Duke made the establishment of the Friendship House easier.
“The gift [of Reality Ministries] is that we have 100-200 people inhabited in these friendships every week,” Little said. “To have that already, and then for Duke to come in and have student residents, it was really ripe and fertile ground. It wasn’t coming in and setting up a new thing.”
Resident and Divinity student Zach Bond joined the Friendship House after receiving an email with information at the beginning of the year. Although he had not previously worked with individuals with disabilities, he said that he thought it would be a valuable growing experience. Bond said that he has loved getting to know the Friends and plans to live at the Friendship House for his remaining two years.
“After my three years, they’re going to have to move me out,” Bond said. “I love this place.”
Rice and Little, who have served as directors of the House since its opening in August 2013, will continue to live in the House even after they graduate next year.
“Nikki Rae and I are lucky because we are the two directors of the homes. So we, in our role, can live past graduation date,” said Little. “Since [the Friendship House is] only a year old, it’s really a tender time for Friendship House too, so as much stability as we can have is important.”
Bond said that the biggest challenge when living in the Friendship House was balancing schoolwork and time with his Friend. He explained that because the Friends do not necessarily have many activities throughout the day, they are excited when the students return—but Bond has to finish papers and work as well.
“It’s like balancing in real life,” he said.
To help students with this balancing act, Reality Ministries provides fun activities, cooking lessons and practical life classes every few days, giving Friends something to look forward to. Each semester, every apartment decides on three goals to improve independent living skills.
Friend Alex Furiness’ goal this semester was hospitality, for example. Each Sunday, the Friendship House welcomes the community for dinner. Dedicated to improving his hospitality skills, Furiness proudly made “cookie mush”—a dessert with cookies and whipped cream—to share with his guests.