Friends U students and staff fighting to keep program alive

Published: May. 9, 2023 at 6:56 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A special education program at Friends University could soon be no more. Now, students, staff and family are fighting to keep the Friendship Fields program alive.

It’s a program that’s said to have changed the lives of many.

“They make me laugh every single day,” said a program intern, Olivia Landreth. “They make me feel included. I just feel like I belong.”

“I go on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and it’s fun,” student Aevy Orchard said. “It’s fun times.”

The Friendship Fields program gives people with intellectual disabilities a college experience. But the program’s future is in doubt after director Valerie Wall decided to retire.

“I was thinking about retiring partly towards my health and partly that it’s time to retire,” Wall said. “Instead of talking about transitions (to) someone else for that position, they talked about closing the program. That was shocking to me.”

It took the students, interns and family by surprise as well.

“It makes me sad because I really like the program and I want to keep it going,” student Anna Lynn Rader said.

“I don’t know if there’s anything to replace this learning experience,” said parent Krista Rader. “So it would be a very disappointing thing.”

The students want the school to keep the program running.

“Because this program means so much to not only the interns but the entire student body,” Landreth said. “One of my fellow interns, Jennifer, she decided to start a protest to combat this change. There ended up being a (Snapchat) group with over 70 people in it and flyers were made.”

They hope the impact of this would change for the good.

“It’s been a really good program,” said Lorie Orchard, Aevy’s mother. “It really has allowed him to be more independent.”