Thriving with friends: Fishers social club offers community options for people with disabilities


Socialization is something many experts believe adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities require to live a fulfilling life. A local social club for disabled adults wants to make a difference in that regard.

Fishers-based Thrive Social Club, specifically for “20-somethings” with disabilities to socialize and participate in various activities, offers members the chance to “get together, hang out and do fun activities,” according to club leader Mari Kennedy.

The club, however, isn’t only for the benefit of members. Thrive Social Club also helps caregivers build a support system.

“It is a social opportunity for caregivers to meet and network, too,” Kennedy said. “The mission of Thrive is to connect young citizens of all abilities in our community to participate in life-enriching social activities.”

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The first-ever club meetup was on Oct. 3, 2020. The club volunteered at Flat Fork Creek to participate in a park cleanup as part of Keep Fishers Beautiful. (Photos courtesy of Thrive Social Club)

The club was founded by the Fishers Advisory Committee on Disability in 2020. It was the brainchild of committee member Kennedy, whose son, Ryan, 20, has Down syndrome.

“We created Thrive to provide people of all abilities a welcoming and inclusive way to participate in all the social opportunities in Fishers,” Kennedy said.

Thrive Social Club is guided by an advisory board that consists of members with a strong interest in the club’s mission. Joining Kennedy on the board are Fishers City Councilor Cecilia Coble, chair of the Fishers Advisory Committee on Disability; Kelly Hartman from Outside the Box, a services provider for people with disabilities; and Dana Pottschmidt from Opportunities for Positive Growth, a service provider for individuals with disabilities. Pottschmidt is also involved with the Kiwanis Aktion Club, a program for adults with disabilities. Terri Smith, Zenobia Curtis and Angela Touseull are parent board members.

Coble said the club offers socialization to fill the gap that exists after high school for those with disabilities.

“My daughter, Crysta, is 20 years old,” Coble said. “After she graduated from high school, the inclusive social opportunities that are in place in a school setting were difficult to find. Many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities find themselves very isolated and disconnected from the community. This social club provides a way for people to meet, make friendships, find support and engage in community events.”

The issue of ensuring recent high school graduates with disabilities are still able to learn, socialize and feel enriched in their lives was something Kennedy wanted to spotlight.

“There are very few age-appropriate, community-based social opportunities for young adults with (intellectual and developmental disabilities) after high school,” Kennedy said. “Their typical peers go off to college, so those inclusive friendships disappear. Also, these adults generally don’t drive nor have great communication and social skills. Because of all this, these individuals lose their friendships when they graduate. Thrive was created to fill this gap after high school.”

The founders of Thrive hoped that the club could help build community connections during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many people felt isolated, which is why the club was created in 2020.

“As human beings, we all want to feel connected with others and to participate in community events,” Coble said. “The COVID-19 situation brought even more isolation to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The Thrive Social Club helps us to connect with one another and engage in the community.”

The first club meetup was on Oct. 3, 2020. Club members volunteered at Flat Fork Creek to participate in a park cleanup as part of Keep Fishers Beautiful, a citywide initiative to support the vibrancy of the city and neighborhoods.

Now, the club meets twice a month and has more than 70 members, ranging in age from 18 to 30. Previous events have consisted of swim parties, hikes, attending Fishers Summer Concerts and Movies in the Park, dance parties at 31Svn, pizza hangouts and volunteering.

Recent club outings included bowling, attending an Indy Fuel hockey game, attending A Merry Prairie Holiday at Conner Prairie in December and hosting a Friendsgiving event in November that included food and bingo.

Kennedy said her goal for Thrive is to help members make long-term friendships and let others know that Thrive Social Club is where those with disabilities can have a “safe, good time.”

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Club members attend Parade Day May 28 for the Indy 500 Festival.

Making friends

Socialization is crucial for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. According to a study published in September 2022 by Frontiers in Rehabilitation Sciences, a research journal, poor social skills development is linked to a difference in the ability to form friendships. Individuals with intellectual disabilities usually encounter difficulties in making and maintaining friendships.

The study’s recommended solution? Encourage people with disabilities to talk to more people and get involved in hands-on activities – exactly what Thrive Social Club was set up to do.