By Catherine Pritchard
On a chilly evening in December, a group of people sat around a table in a home at the Friendship House campus in Haymount.
They played board games, talked, traded jokes and laughed – a lot.
“This is how I hoped it would be,” said Scott Cameron, the spark plug behind the project that will provide affordable, integrated housing for 18 college-level healthcare students and six young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The aim is to give the delayed residents a chance to improve their independent and interdependent living skills and give the students experiences that will help them become more knowledgeable and compassionate in their dealings with patients, other people and themselves.
Cameron, a neonatal physician and minister, lived in a Friendship House in Durham when he was a student at Duke University and was deeply affected by the experience. After moving to Fayetteville, he proposed creating a Friendship House here.
In just two years’ time, the idea roared from concept to fully constructed reality with the help of individuals, companies and institutions that donated cash, goods, services and property to the $1.3 million project. The once scrubby lot on Arsenal Avenue that used to provide overflow parking for nearby Highland Presbyterian Church is now the beautifully landscaped site of three Colonial-style homes that will house the healthcare students and the young adults known as Friend residents.
The property also includes a spacious covered pavilion, with picnic tables, fireplaces, fans and lighting for gatherings along with a fourth home where Cameron and his wife, Avery, now live with their children. The couple are described as the “visionaries” for Friendship House Fayetteville and, in addition to his continuing work as a physician, Cameron is the campus chaplain and resident director.
Ground was broken on the project in March 2018. It was completed by early November when an official ribbon-cutting and big celebration was held. By then, two people had already moved in – 25-year-old Chasity Sullivan, who’s in the physician’s assistant program at Methodist University, and 27-year-old Vicky Hall, a Friend who also happened to already be a friend of Chasity’s. The two met several years ago at Appalachian State University where Vicky was enrolled in a two-year program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Chasity volunteered with the program. Neither knew the other was applying to live at Friendship House Fayetteville but both were delighted to end up there together.
Chasity said she wanted be part of Friendship House because she “loved the idea of being part of a community that combines faith and medicine to empower people with disabilities to become independent.”
Vicky and Chasity do a lot of things together but Vicky loves her sense of independence. “I feel free,” she said.
The two women live on the second floor of one of the homes and will eventually be joined there by two other healthcare students from local colleges and universities. Downstairs, two more people have since moved in – a medical student and Michael Brown, a Friend resident. More residents will be arriving over coming months. Tara Brisson Hinton, the community relations and development manager for ServiceSource’s North Carolina Regional Office, said the process will be gradual in part because many of the healthcare students who want to live at Friendship House were locked into leases when the campus opened.
The four remaining Friend residents have been chosen and are eagerly awaiting their chance to move in. In the meantime, they visit if and when they can. Michael was at the gathering in Vicky and Chasity’s living area in early December as was J.B. Byrne and Thomas Grady. Smiles abounded.
Each resident will have their own bedroom and each Friend has their own bathroom. The other roommates share two other bathrooms while the kitchen, living area and laundry room are communal areas. Roommates are expected to interact, eat and pray together regularly but the Friends are expected to care for themselves and to hold part-time jobs or do significant volunteer work. Everyone must be at least 21 years old.
The roommates fit out their own bedrooms and bathrooms. Vicky’s bedroom and bathroom include images from her favorite Disney movie, Frozen. Even the shower curtain has Frozen characters on it though, presumably, the water from the tap is comfortably warm.
There’s one exception to the supply-your-own bedroom and bathroom gear - bed quilts. Two members of Highland Presbyterian Church made quilts for all 24 residents, all different except for the love and care stitched into each and a Friendship House emblem tucked on the underside. Vicky chose a brightly striped quilt edged in a deep blue that Frozen’s heroine Elsa would likely appreciate.
The Camerons will also be dropping by each house regularly, to make sure all is well but, just as importantly, to visit with the students and Friends who at the end of the day, they hope, will all be just one big group of friends, each grateful to be in the company of the others.
“We’re so fortunate,” Louise Hall said.