In 1999, Circle of Friends was created on the campus of Santa Monica High School in the city of Santa Monica, California, when one student with Down Syndrome was observed sitting alone at lunch. Although he was fully included in general education classes, he was isolated at lunch, a time when all other teenagers on his high school campus were eating with friends. We built a different "circle" of 2-3 non-disabled peers around him daily and he became fully woven into the fabric of his campus…thus began "Circle of Friends." He was no longer isolated, ignored, or invisible…students began saying "hi" as they walked to class and interacted more easily with him.
Circle of Friends started with 12 students…there are now over 400 participants at Santa Monica High School! In 2005, because of its success, a non-profit organization was formed to duplicate this program in other school districts. The goal was to have more students, both with and without disabilities (and their families), benefit the way our families have benefited in the Santa Monica community. In 2007, Barbara brought inclusion to the college level, where CoF linked young adults with special needs to the UCLA student population, teaming with the "Pathway @ UCLA Extension" program.
As of September 2012, CoF has established chapters at 90 schools throughout California, Oregon, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Connecticut, positively impacting more than 19,000 students! CoF now brings inclusion to elementary, middle, high school, and college campuses and communities and makes a strong long-term social impact on future generations who will gain a lifelong understanding and acceptance of differences through their experiences in CoF.