BLOOMINGTON -- Susan Martello lost her job when the state slashed human service budgets this summer.
"She was sitting at home all day with nothing to do," said her mother, Barb Martello of Bloomington.
But that recently changed when FriendsFirst, an activity center for developmentally disabled adults, opened in space at Second Presbyterian Church in downtown Bloomington.
Susan Martello, 49, who was born with two holes in her heart and has Down syndrome, not only started attending the center, she also organized an exercise program for participants.
"When I was sick I was in pain," she said. "I exercised and it made the pain go away. I exercised more and more and my heart got better. I wanted to share that with my friends."
Barb Martello said the center gives her daughter a chance to make new friends -- and to shine.
FriendsFirst is the brainchild of Prayerie Light, a local friendship and prayer group for developmentally disabled adults, in partnership with MarcFirst, an agency that assists people with developmental disabilities.
The idea started last spring when Compassion Center, a day center for homeless people, moved out of Second Presbyterian to the new Salvation Army Safe Harbor. Nancy Gordon, a member of Prayerie Light and the church, learned the church was looking for another group to serve.
"The name FriendsFirst is perfect because I believe that in the friend base, we should entertain the possibility that a disabled person be our friend," Gordon said.
While need for a social environment for developmentally disabled adults intensified after the state budget cuts.
"When we had a lot of financial cuts, a lot of programs went away, including recreational services and community services," said Kristi Greenfield of MarcFirst, the program director for FriendsFirst. "There was a huge need for recreational services and a way (for clients) to touch base on a regular basis."
FriendsFirst also helps Second Presbyterian "live out our mission to serve ... ‘the least of these' on the edge of the society," said the Rev. Chip Hardwick, pastor of the church. "It's a theological heir to the Compassion Center."
Many church members volunteer at FriendsFirst, and Hardwick hopes the congregation will embrace it as it did Compassion Center. Members still donate items needed at Compassion Center, he said.
The joint venture between FriendsFirst and Second Presbyterian already has prompted another partnership. The Bloomington Rotary Club also meets at the church and sought out a relationship with FriendsFirst, said club President Lyn Hruska.
Club members learned the annual Thanksgiving Day meal for developmentally disabled adults and their families had to be canceled this year because of MarcFirst funding cuts and the elimination of the Occupational Development Center.
Hruska said Rotary Club members decided to finance the meal, and the church provided space and its chef, Paul Stroup, to serve turkey and the trimmings to about 150 people.
"It's the beginning of a new tradition," Hruska said.
What: An activity center for developmentally disabled adults
When: 9:30 to 12:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
Where: Second Presbyterian Church’s Martin Hall, 313 N. East St., Bloomington
Who: Ambulatory developmentally disabled adults who can take care of their personal hygiene needs or have an accompanying caregiver
Cost: $5 per day (additional donations also taken)
Contact: Call Kristi Greenfield at MarcFirst, 309-451-8888, ext. 224, to sign up