On Sept. 22, Friendship House, a home that offers Duke Divinity School students and people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) the opportunity to live together in community, officially opened. Located in Durham’s North Street community, the home is a partnership between Duke Divinity School, HopeSpring Village , Reality Ministries , and The Arc of North Carolina .
In each of four apartments, three students live with one resident who has an I/DD. All live together as roommates: residents with a disability improve their independent living skills, hold down jobs, and participate fully in the life and ministry of the church; students attend classes and learn from their roommates, gaining a deeper appreciation for all people and developing a practical understanding of how to integrate people with disabilities into the church. The program, which is also open to graduate students outside of the Divinity School, is the first of its kind in the state.
The program is run through the Duke Divinity School Office of Ministerial Formation, and students and residents are selected through an admissions process. HopeSpring Village owns the house, which is managed by The Arc of North Carolina. As part of the North Street community, Friendship House is also part of a larger project of urban renewal and community-building for marginalized communities .
Says Matthew Floding, director of Ministerial Formation and Field Education, “At Friendship House, students gain through lived experience a deeper understanding of the image of God in persons, a broader understanding of inclusion, an empathetic understanding of families who have a child with a disability, and an enlarged picture of the kingdom of God to which they are called to participate in as gospel ministers.”
The first Friendship House was established at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., when Floding, at the time the school’s dean of students, was approached in 2005 about finding housing for a young man in the community who had Down syndrome. Recognizing the benefits to both the seminary and the local community, Floding developed a plan for Friendship House, which opened in 2007.
Floding credits the Friendship House model with offering an affordable supported independent living option for disabled individuals while giving students opportunities to confront the ethical and social issues that people with disabilities face and to learn how to develop a more inclusive and effective ministry.
“One early discovery is that persons with disabilities have gifts to contribute to any community—especially the church. Friendship House Durham provides Duke Divinity School students with a transformational experience.”