May 21, 2013 04:07PM
● By Lisa Drake
Kathy Limas was 18, fresh out of high school and newly married when she found out she was pregnant. But what she was soon to discover was that the child she was carrying was afflicted with Down syndrome. She didn’t know much about the condition at the time but soon came to see her son Kenny as an opportunity like no other in her life.
“I knew I had a very special love and job to do in this world,” she says. “And that was to raise Kenny in the best educational setting I could think of. Public school was the answer.” She says Kenny had the best of both worlds while being surrounded by his regular and special education peers. But her future as a caregiver to Kenny and others in need was to hold even more potential.
Today, Michigan-native Limas and her 29-year-old son Kenny, live in Mansfield. In the summer of 2012 she launched a non-profit organization called Kenny’s Best of Friends. The entity will eventually offer job opportunities and training, continuing education and help with lifestyle management for those with intellectual disabilities – including Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy. It’s intended for those 18 and over and is operated entirely through donations, sponsorships and volunteers.
Kathy Limas grew up in the small town of Webberville, Michigan, just twenty minutes from the state capitol of Michigan. She says she remembers kids being mean and teasing those with special needs. “At that time I noticed how our special needs community was often hidden and sheltered when it came to those with disabilities,” she says. “I often wondered why? Why can't we all be together and help one another?”
Those early memories had a real impact on her and hit home even more when Kenny was born. She has spent much of her life serving those in need from children with disabilities to the elderly in need of special care. She has been a part of organizations such as Special Olympics and Miracle League and logged numerous volunteer hours.
In 2008, she moved from Michigan to the Mansfield area and was working for the Mansfield ISD. It was around this time she saw a dire need. “I realized there weren't many jobs out there for Kenny,” she says. “Most positions that were available were already filled by high school students.” Furthermore, as a single parent, it was difficult for her to provide transportation for Kenny to and from work or dayhab services. “Most of the dayhabs were only open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. This made it very difficult for Kenny to have the consistency or the whole life that he wants just as badly as we all do.”
As she got to know people in Mansfield, she saw there were others who had needs just like hers. “Becoming involved with the special needs community is the first step in making you aware of the great need in the lives of our adult children. It is our goal to have optimal community involvement making this a special place in a special town.” So in June of 2012, she founded Kenny’s Best of Friends.
The fledgling organization is gaining a foothold in Mansfield and Limas hopes it will make a difference by offering needed additional opportunities throughout the community. “We want to touch as many lives through our organization as possible,” she says. “Our organization will offer job and volunteer opportunities that will give a sense of pride and accomplishment to all involved.”
Ultimately, Kenny’s Best of Friends is fulfilling a dream of Limas’ that there would be an organization offering continuing education, job training and social skills to those with special needs.
Though still a work in progress, Limas says, “We have plans to create a functional greenhouse to grow spring floral baskets and fall poinsettias. Build a gymnasium and athletic facilities to have Special Olympics practices and athletic programs to keep everyone in good physical condition. Open a pet rescue facility where we can learn the care and keeping of animals and much more.” She says they plan to reach out and partner with the community to find employment options for those involved with Kenny’s Best of Friends.
Limas says the organization is currently looking for land – she hopes it might even be donated – to provide a permanent facility and location. And she says they hope to break ground within the next two years.
They will need supporters and volunteers and she says, “We would like anyone interested to join us in changing lives...one hug at a time!”
To find out more about Kenny’s Best of Friends and how you can help, contact the organization by phone at 517-488-8546 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kennys-Best-of-Friends/429183723782426?ref=ts&fref=ts