In August of 2007, Denise Schamens and Chelsea Budde came together and formed Good Friend, Inc. (GFI), located at 407 N. Grand Avenue. As parents of autistic children, they wanted to “provide this generation of children with the tools to build a better foundation for their place in a cooperative society.” Denise started this journey as the volunteer Family Engagement Liaison for the School District of Waukesha. She started a support group for parents of children with special education needs when Chelsea started attending. The organization’s mission came about organically, as both had strengths that could be used to fill gaps they identified.
As their children started attending school, Denise recalls how easy it was to go to her son’s first grade class and explain his lack of speech and autistic behaviors to the children. “They had a lot of questions. I explained how they could be his friend and understand.”
Denise explains that became GFI’s mission: to create autism awareness, teach acceptance of differences, and foster empathy for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among their typically-developing peers. GFI’s proprietary staff and student curriculum talks about autism in a positive way, often over the course of an hour-long service at the school’s request. They lead interactive exercises to show how everyone is different, and show a film which they created using local talent. As their children have grown, they have created two additional films specific to elementary and middle school audiences, to keep the material relevant. Testimonies of autistic children who were once ostracized and shunned are now being replaced with stories of acceptance and play-date invitations.
To learn more about the incredible work this organization is doing and the difference it has made in our community and beyond, visit their website at www.goodfriendinc.com.