Friends Foundation trip to Myrtle Beach

The Friends Foundation recently provided 50 round-trip airline tickets, as well as gift cards for expenses, for people with developmental disabilities and their caregivers to take trips across the U.S. with funding from a Southwest Airlines program. Among those participating was a group that visited Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Pictured, from left, are Deanne Kriete, caregiver Barbara Laberer, Jimmy Hale, Michelle Laberer, Billy Hale and caregiver Sherry Schneider.  

The last of the 50 airline trips funded by a grant to the Friends Foundation of Warren & Franklin County is nearing. But the memories will last the people with intellectual and developmental challenges who took the trips, as well as their caregivers, a lifetime.

Among the caregivers is Barbara Laberer. She and another caregiver brought Laberer’s daughter, Michelle, and three other Friends Foundation clients, all in their 30s, on a recent trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“We could have gone anywhere in the United States, and the group chose to go to Myrtle Beach,” Laberer said.

Laberer’s group visited the Pirates Voyage Dinner Show, the Ripley’s Aquarium and enjoyed a sunset dolphin cruise, though they didn’t actually see any dolphins.

“It was just amazing,” said Barbara Laberer, a Union Alderman. “We spent a lot of time on the beach.”

The trip included a visit to the boardwalk, where twins Billy and Jimmy Hale sang the Drifters classic “Under the Boardwalk.”

“They’d been to the beach, but it was just like they stopped by, put their feet in the water and left,” Laberer said of the twins. “This was the first time they actually got to go and play and just relax and sit in the sand.”

They also spent time at their condominium, which featured three pools and a lazy river.

Laberer’s group, which returned Aug. 30, was the next to last one to use its free roundtrip tickets from Southwest Airlines, said Friends Foundation President Sharon Holtmeyer.

Laberer’s group sent its application in and was selected to receive the free airline tickets. The Friends Foundation, formerly Friends of Emmaus, also provided each person with $400 gift cards. Laberer said they used the gift cards to pay for the condominium and activities.

“Almost everything was paid for, other than souvenirs and food for the condo,” she said.

The trip was supposed to be three nights but ended up being four because their return flight was delayed by weather, Laberer said.

Along with the grant from Southwest Airlines’ Acts of Kindness program, the Friends Foundation was able to pay for the gift cards using money raised from fundraisers like its annual golf tournament, the next of which is scheduled for Sept. 9, and a fall festival, which will be Nov. 6, Holtmeyer said.

Other Friends Foundation clients have taken trips to places like Walt Disney World, the New Jersey shore and Las Vegas to see Barry Manilow.

“One gentleman had never been on a plane, so that was an incredible experience for him,” Holtmeyer said. “The ones that went to Las Vegas had never been to a place with lots of lights and activity, so that was incredible for them. They had never been to a concert, so that was amazing for them.”

Another duo went to see the St. Louis Cardinals play in Florida. “They’d been to Cardinal games before, but for them to get to go to someplace outside of St. Louis and, actually get to go to the beach and experience that and go on some of those boat cruises, they were so excited.”

But it was just as rewarding for board members like Holtmeyer.

“When we got the grant from Southwest, I was just shocked,” she said. “I knew it was a wonderful thing, I just had no idea how it was going to impact the folks that got these trips. And I did not know how it was going to impact me in hearing the experiences that they had. It’s been amazing for them, but it’s also been incredible for me and our board members from the Friends Foundation to hear all the experiences that these fantastic folks have had.”

The Friends Foundation also assists with items, ranging from mattresses to household needs for agencies like ABiLITY, or Developmental Services of Franklin County. The Friends Foundation also pays for accessible vans, customized furniture and tablet computers, which assist with medical and family visits, as well as job training for clients, according to its website.