“We are here for all families.”
Enter Custer Road UMC on any Friday evening, and you will see a vibrant and energetic woman with a beautiful smile greeting children whose parents have entrusted them to her care. She and her team give the parents rest from the hectic demands of caring for a special needs child. The woman with the beautiful smile? Her name is Carol Brady Houston and she was recently awarded a Triumph of the Spirit Award by the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program (EHRP) for her compassionate leadership and work with Plano-based Friday NITE Friends.
EHRP’s work is guided by the belief that “there is no such thing as a lesser person.” Carol’s work with Friday NITE Friends embodies this belief by providing medically fragile and special needs children with a night out where they can make new friends, play and be cared for with loving attention.
Friday NITE Friends (FNF) was founded 21 years ago by Linda Guerrero in memory of her daughter, to provide respite care for parents of children who were medically fragile. Today, it is a beacon of hope not only for those parents, but for parents whose children have autism or Down syndrome, as well as their siblings.
There is no cost for families who enroll in the program. There are more than 100 children currently enrolled and on any given Friday night, 25-30 children attend. Volunteers currently number more than 1,000 per year. When asked what drives her to do this work, Carol replied, “I do it because I love it. We provide a unique service to the community. These kids come here, and they’re safe and loved.”
Her thoughts on the award from SMU? “Oh, I was shocked. I don’t think I’m deserving, really. I’m just carrying out Linda’s legacy.”
Spend just a short time with Carol and you’ll realize that she’s doing more than carrying out a legacy. She is driven by compassion and love. One of the kids she’s known for many years is Eddie Braddy. Of him, she said, “Eddie is my inspiration.” Now 21 years old, Eddie has been coming to FNF since he was six months old as a medically fragile child. His mother Lavaughn said, “Carol and Eddie have a special bond. Carol is dedicated, loving and patient. More than that, she is always smiling. Where would we be if it wasn’t for Carol?”
Julia Wilburn’s son Jude and his brother Elijah have been part of the program for seven years. Jude has autism and Elijah is part of the sibling care program. For Julia and her husband, the program is marriage therapy. When Jude was first diagnosed, “his behaviors would not allow us to go out as a family. The respite care he receives here augments his regular therapy. He has calmed down and has better social skills,” Julia recalled. Of the program in general, she commented, “Everyone here is so caring, and I trust them completely with my child. Carol has amazing volunteers. This program is life-saving and sanity-saving.”
FNF is a star among Plano’s non-profit community. One of the first respite programs in the country, it continues to serve, train others and share its method for success. Of their clients, Carol says, “They’re kids like any other kids. They just learn a little bit differently. We are here for all families. We don’t discriminate. We want to give back and relieve the stress of these special families.”Friday NITE Friends >