About Friends in Action
Friends in Action’s mission is to enhance the lives of people with developmental disabilities by creating inclusive social and recreational opportunities. Friends in Action is about friendship, laughter, companionship, fun and community connections. Everything that we all want in our lives to make us happy.
The goal of Friends in Action is to have people who might otherwise be very isolated have real, meaningful friendships, places to go, things to do and people to meet. To have something and someone to look forward to.
Friends in Action endeavors to combat the social isolation that many people with disabilities experience. This is done through an integrated approach that promotes inclusion practices. Friends in Action recognizes, encourages and promotes a variety of relationships in many settings. Friends in Action believes that accessible activities that address the needs of people with disabilities need to be facilitated in order for more choices to be available.
Friends in Action was created in March of 2000 by the Portsmouth School Department and a group of parents as a program called the Friends Project. In July of 2012, the Friends Project left the Portsmouth School Department to become a nonprofit called Friends in Action. The Friends Project was started because students and parents were frustrated over the lack of friendships that people with developmental disabilities experience. In 2000, about 25 families from Portsmouth participated. Today, over 100 families from 50 different towns and three states are involved with Friends in Action in a variety of programs.
Heidi Chase is the Executive Director of Friends in Action. While working in the Special Education Department at Portsmouth High School in the year 2000, she attended a meeting of parents that were discussing the lack of friendships their children experienced after school. This meeting inspired Friends in Action. “The unwavering dedication and commitment parents have to their children inspires me every day. Without them, Friends in Action would not exist.” Heidi has a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and a dual undergraduate degree in English and Communications from UNH. Heidi loves watching the faces of participants light up when they see their friends. Heidi enjoys horses, bikes and playing with family and friends.
Amanda is an enthusiastic and motivated person who has been involved with Friends in Action since the beginning. She started working with Friends in Action when she was a high school freshman at Portsmouth High and then as a student from the University of Maine. Her favorite program at Friends in Action is the Friday Night Social because she has the chance to dance, socialize, and play games with most of the members in one big event. Amanda says, “I love creating a space where our participants are safe and able to have fun while the parents/providers can feel content for a few hours.” In Amanda’s off time she enjoys spending time with her family.
Wildcat Friends Teacher
Carol joined our staff as a teacher for the Wildcat Friends Wednesday night class in January of 2018. Carol is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, earning a BA in Zoology. Presently, she is a special education paraeducator at Portsmouth High School. Carol is also an assistant coach for Unified sports at Portsmouth High. She has loved her work supporting students for more than 10 years. “I am very grateful for the opportunity to teach for Friends in Action. No matter what our topic, the students are enthusiastic and insightful. I always leave class with a smile on my face.” Carol enjoys being outdoors and incorporates Life Science into the curriculum whenever possible. When not in class, you can find her digging in the dirt or watching birds at the feeder.
Wildcat Friends Teacher
Heather has her BA in human development and a Master’s in education. She started working for Friends in Action during September of 2017 in the Wildcat Friends program on Wednesday nights. She has volunteered as a Special Olympics Coach for many years and is more than happy to share her experience with others. During Heather’s free time, she spends as much time outdoors with her family that she can manage, and refurbishing or refining furniture. “I love creating and implementing hands on learning experiences. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to work and learn from such an amazing group of people.”
Linette joined the Friends in Action family in 2011 teaching Theater for Wildcat Friends. She graduated from UNH with her BA in Theater and Dance, then performed all over the US, Europe, Canada, and on the Crown Odyssey cruise ship. After moving home to NH to raise her family, she worked briefly as a paraprofessional at Mast Way school and as a direct support with One Sky Community Services before having the great luck of meeting Heidi Chase! Linette loves watching everyone have fun and learn together in theater class and work hard with her at Echo Thrift Shop! She continues to perform in local theaters around the Seacoast.
Erin Timbs loves teaching theatre with Friends in Action! She was an intern with the class back when it first began and joined the staff in 2019. She holds a BA in Theatre from UNH and a Certificate in Early Childhood Education from Great Bay Community College. She spent a couple of years living in Florida where she worked and performed at Disney World and SeaWorld. Erin has recently performed at several theaters around the Seacoast, and she spent many years as an instructor at local performing arts camps. She lives with her husband, Triston, her son, Simon, and her cats!
Wayne’s favorite part of working with Friends in Action is watching friendships being formed and grow over many years. If he looks familiar to you, it’s because he is a lifetime Portsmouth/Seacoast resident and has been involved in Friends in Action since high school when he was invited to hang out at a social and never left. Wayne and his wife Kali are local magicians, balloon artists, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) educators with their business Sages Entertainment. Along with their daughter Alice, they love to be creative and play!
Bryan has his BS in Recreation Management and Policy and his M.Ed in Special Education, both from UNH. He started his FIA career as a volunteer from the Recreation Services for Individuals with Disabilities class at UNH in the fall of 2004. He enjoyed himself so much and he kept volunteering and eventually became a staff member and has worked for the program ever since. The experience also pushed him in the direction of working in Special Education, as he is currently a Special Education Case Manager at Portsmouth High School. He is very grateful to be a part of such an inspiring program, in which the staff and participants feel like an extension of his family. Bryan also enjoys sports of all kinds and spending time with his wife Kati, and his two sons, Carter and Walker.
Kali Moulton has been part of the Friends in Action family since October of 2013, first through volunteering at Friday Night Socials. She fell in love with the sense of belonging that Friends fosters and has expanded her responsibilities into the Monday Games Club and Echo Thrift Shop. Kali studied Art and Architecture through the University of Maine and has worked with several non-profits over the years functioning as everything from program staff to President of the Board of Directors. She spends the rest of her time with her husband, Wayne Moulton, their daughter, and building their successful magic and balloon business.
If you’ve attended the bowling or basketball Special Olympics events in New Hampshire, it’s likely you’ve already seen Kasey in action. She has been working with Friends in Action for over seven years now and has her BS degree in community and K-12 Health Education. Kasey loves her time with the participants at Friends in Action because “FIA is one of the greatest groups I’ve ever been a part of. I can always count on the participants and staff to put a smile on my face. It’s my second family!” She keeps herself active with any sport she can think of and brings her love for sports to the Friends in Action community.
2010 was an exciting year for Friends in Action because it was the year Rachel McKaig started volunteering at FIA. Rachel holds a BS in Recreation Management and Policy from the University of New Hampshire. Her favorite event hosted by Friends in Action is the bi-weekly Friday night social where she loves getting down with her friends on the dance floor. Though Rachel enjoys staying active through hiking, she can still appreciate relaxing in front of the TV watching Netflix on a warm couch with her cats. Rachel works for Friends in Action, but in her opinion, “I never truly feel as if I’m working when I’m with my friends at Friends in Action!”
Alyssa started as a volunteer for Friends In Action in 2011 and joined our staff in 2012. She says, “Watching people make connections at FIA and watching those initial connections turn into authentic friendships is by far the most rewarding aspect of working for FIA; it keeps me coming back each year!” Her desire to help the community grow makes her a shining example of the Friends in Action mission. Alyssa enjoys bringing her talents to the group, having graduated from UNH in 2013 with Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology as well as being a certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.
Alex began with Friends in Action in 2009. She began her journey with Friends in Action as a student volunteer at UNH and became a staff member shortly thereafter. Being a part of Friends in Action has brought years of smiles, laughs, joy and most importantly new friendship! Alex has a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy and works in an elementary school with students ages 5 to 11 years old. Outside of work, Alex enjoys spending time outside fishing, kayaking and being lakeside with her husband and dog.
Ally first started working for Friends in Action in the spring of 2015, during her second semester at UNH. Wildcats Friends came to her dorm to socialize with the building residents, and she immediately fell in love with the organization and their mission. Now, five years later, she can’t imagine her life without Friends in Action. Ally’s favorite thing about FIA is the wide range of activities and events that are offered, because it reflects the diverse interests and talents of everyone involved with the program. There is truly something for everyone. She believes that FIA is an incredibly welcoming community where everyone is encouraged to be themselves and try new things. Being able to watch everyone step outside of their comfort zones and building lifelong friendships is the most rewarding part of the job for her. You can usually find Ally in the quiet room at the Friday Night Socials, but she has also been involved with Wildcat Friends and Bowling Nights. In addition to FIA, Ally has also worked as a Direct Support Professional for One Sky Community Services.
Ethan started at Friends in Action his junior year at UNH, took a brief hiatus when life took him elsewhere, and is now thrilled to be back and be a part of the team. His favorite Friends “job” is Thursday night bowling, but it never really feels like work. While he can often be found spending his afternoon with a group from Friends in Action, he spends his days at Oyster River High School, where he works as a paraprofessional. In his free time, Ethan loves anything that keeps him active.
Hi! My name is Jennie Tybursky, and I have worked for Friends in Action since 2017. My sister, Ally, also works for Friends in Action and we have so much fun working together. I got started working Friday Night Socials and have loved meeting so many new friends. You can find me on the dance floor! I work full-time as an academic advisor at SNHU, but some of my favorite moments are working with all of our amazing staff and participants at Friends in Action. I live in Portsmouth with my husband, Ben, and our dog and three cats!
Tom was first introduced to Friends in Action by Amanda after years of working one-on-one with individuals who participated in Monday Activity Club and other activities. He is a graduate of UNH with a BA in English and has been a volunteer high school recreation basketball coach for several years. He joined the FIA team in 2017 running the Monday basketball group and was struck by the sense of community and friendship that is on display every week. He finds his “work” rewarding in part because, “even when I’m having a bad day there is no way to not have a smile put on my face by our wonderful participants.” Outside of FIA, he is kept busy as co-owner of the food delivery service, Gofer.
Linda began working with Friends in Action in March 2019 at Echo Thrift Shop. Linda had been a volunteer at Echo for 8 years when she was approached to supervise Friends in Action’s Tuesday volunteer group. She loves working at Echo with our participants each week. Linda is retired after working 40 years in the medical field. She loves gardening, reading and crafts, including jewelry making. Linda lives with her husband Kevin and dog Eddie in Lee.
Friends in Action Board
Nancy Vawter- President
Laurie Melanson- Vice President
Gerald Kotkowski- Treasurer
Paul Butler- Secretary