Volunteer opportunity forms lifelong friendships

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —  It was a typical summer night at Krispy Kreme on Stratford Road, but also a very special evening for the women with intellectual and developmental disabilities visiting from the UMAR group homes.  

There were doughnuts, ice cream and coffee, but it was more than that to old friends who are again reunited.  

“We have a ball with them,” UMAR resident Margaret Dunbar said. “I love it!”

Affectionately known as “date night,” the UMAR ladies were with a group of local businessmen who have been volunteering with them for more than 15 years.

For the men, it started as a community service project fueled by their faith. Chris Welch admits none of them anticipated getting so much out of the relationship.

“We are different spheres of people, but the relationship that was built is so easy… So fulfilling for both sides. I almost feel guilty, “ Welch said. “You get back more than you ever dreamed.”

Volunteers like Welch and Tanner Robinson said they realized early on there aren’t many differences between them and the UMAR ladies.  Robinson said he started attending the outings with his dad when he was in high school and now likes to bring his own 1-year-old daughter along.

“We’ve been through a lot in each others’ lives — lot of changes like births, deaths — things that every friendship goes through,” Robinson said. 

UMAR was founded in 1983 and promotes community inclusion, employment and independence for adults who have special needs. Across the state, the agency serves 350 adults and operates 24 group homes.

Several times each year, the group of about 35 men and women get together.  Typical gatherings include basketball in the winter, baseball in the summer, and decorating a tree around Christmas.

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