We had the good fortune of connecting with Denise LeMons and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Denise, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Like many others, our business idea came about because of a void, a need that was not being met. As mothers of autistic children, and disability advocates we identified a void in special need’s social skills training for more enriching, cultural, and fun experiences that could spur authentic social interaction for kids and families and serve as a bridge to fostering friendships for individuals with and without disabilities. We set out to provide such a resource to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion for neurodiverse and neuro-typical children and their families through a summer inclusion camp. The FRIENDSHIP FACTOR was launched in July 2021 during the pandemic, when there was a lack of available in-person social recreational events for kids and families.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The Friendship Factor is a registered non-profit co-founded by two Culver City single Moms, Denise LeMons, and Josie Sandoval. We host a Summer Camp and other social recreational events during the year for neurodiverse and neurotypical children. Neurodiversity is characterized by autistic, ADHD, dyslexia, or other atypical patterns of thought or behavior.
Our curriculum is based on a 4 Pillar Program: Play it Forward, Snack & Chat, Join & Learn, and Relax & Reset, all fundamental practices that support positive sociability, mindfulness, and well-being.
Conceiving and organizing an 8-week summer inclusion camp for neurodiverse youth, facilitating a successful online crowd-funding campaign exceeding our goals, and fully funding all expenditures to launch with 6 weeks preparation during the pandemic, is truly an accomplishment I share with a 100% volunteer team.
The best thing about our Summer Inclusion Camp is getting to know the children and families we serve and providing them with enriching, fun events and activities that allow them to collaborate, create, and connect with other kids of all abilities in a safe and supportive environment. Through these shared experiences all children can acquire skills that are necessary to attaining social mobility, resilience, empathy, and belonging and form the foundation for lasting friendships.
One of the challenges we faced was recruiting neurotypical children to register and participate in our inclusion camp. Oftentimes, the lack of understanding of differences and commonalities children with IDD’s and DD’s share with typically developing children leads to parent reluctance in their kids joining integrated peer groups.
“We have more in common with others than not, and it’s up to us parents to encourage our children to try new things, experience other cultures and interact with children different than themselves,” notes Denise. “Not only is this a valuable goal, in and of itself, but it also has tangible benefits, such as promoting understanding, acceptance, and new opportunities.”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Los Angles is filled with so many attractions and areas to see and explore from the beaches to the mountains. But our favorite pastime is visiting the world-class museums from art to automobiles, craft, culture and children’s exploratory spaces, you can never go wrong with these family-friendly communal environments. Some of our favorites are The Getty, Kidspace in Pasadena and CAAM-California African American Museum. All have great exhibits and some offer workshops you can attend for free.
Culver City, where we reside, has so much to offer we don’t have to venture far. From a scenic nature walk on the Baldwin Hills Overlook or a picnic in one of our many parks. Stop by Jackson’s Market beforehand to pick-up fresh salads and sandwiches.
Downtown main street has so many lively bars, restaurant and shopping options you can’t miss. We enjoy Salt & Straw ice cream shop that has the most delicious and unexpected flavors!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Actually, some of our best support and encouragement comes from people we have never met in person! We are so grateful for our social media followers and the caring community we have cultivated on digital platforms (Instagram, Facebook). There is safety in these digital spaces, providing a unique opportunity to connect, share, and celebrate with others who can relate, empathize, encourage, and influence your parenting journey. Some of our best promotions and marketing strategies have come about through collaborations with other influencers in the neurodiversity/disabilities space. It just makes us want to work harder to keep providing our followers with relevant, engaging and informative content as well as inspirational quotes and stories to keep their spirits up and let them know that they are not alone on this often challenging, yet truly rewarding parenting journey. So a big Shoutout to our 2K + followers!