A Chance Encounter Leads to Lasting Friendships

Kelly Connor with Virginia (LEFT) and with Emmy (RIGHT) // Photos courtesy of Kelly Cooper

An involvement fair at West Chester University led Kelly Connor to KenCrest’s Day Sharing program and two new friendships.

By Sydney Kerelo  

In the fall of 2021, former Day Sharing Coordinator, Olivia Riordan, set up a table at an involvement fair on West Chester University’s campus. With a beaming smile and an air of kindness, Riordan captured the attention of several first-year students, including Kelly Connor.  

Intrigued by her cheerful essence, Connor walked over to the table, curious about what Riordan had to share. The pair quickly sparked a conversation about KenCrest’s Day Sharing program, a community-based approach to connect people KenCrest supports by matching them to community members who share common interests.  

Emmy and Kelly Conor playing air hockey // Photo courtesy of Kelly Connor

Connor immediately fell in love with the idea and signed up on the spot. Now, two years later, she’s partnered with two women, Emmy, and Virginia, becoming more than Day Sharing partners, but true friends.  

The process wasn’t always easy. Connor’s two partners are vastly different from one another in likes, dislikes, and even age.   

“At first, I was nervous [to partner with two people] because Emmy is closer to my age, but Virginia is so much older than me,” says Connor. “I was like, I don’t know how this is going to go, but I was like, I’m just going to go in and be myself, and if she likes my personality, then we’re going to fit.” 

Kelly, Virginia, and Olivia Riordan outside the movie theater // Photo courtesy of Kelly Connor

But after that initial meeting, the duo hit it off, quickly finding common interests and becoming close friends. The pair regularly take trips to the movie theater and walk around the mall, chit-chatting as they stroll.  

A few weeks ago, Connor met Riordan and Virginia, and her support team at the movie theater. Only a handful of movies played that day, so Connor let Virginia pick which one they should watch. At first, she was hesitant to decide, but she quickly selected, and the group headed into the theater. But once they sat down and the movie began, the group noticed it was an action movie with lots of fighting scenes, something Virginia expressed she did not like. At first, the group was apprehensive, repeatedly checking on her to see if she wanted to leave. But after some time, they noticed her eating her popcorn, drinking her drink, and laughing throughout.  

“I was like, I don’t think anyone else is laughing, Virginia,” giggles Connor at the fond memory. “As soon as the movie ended, though, she was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my favorite movie!’ So, I think she enjoyed herself.”  

While Virginia and Connor struggled to connect initially, she and Emmy didn’t face any struggles; the couple hit it off instantly. From the first moment they met, the two partners became fast friends taking trips to the movies, going bowling together, and even visiting Color Me Mine, where they painted pottery. 

Kelly and Emmy singing karaoke // Photo courtesy of Kelly Connor

“We went to Round 1 in Exton to go bowling, but all Emmy wanted to do was karaoke, and she loved it. Emmy’s support team and I all asked if she wanted to do any duets with us, and she was like, ‘no, no, no, I want to do a solo,’” laughs Connor brightly at the memory. “We were having a bunch of fun just seeing her smile and how happy she got afterward.”  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability. And of those 6.5 million people, many report difficulty finding appropriate providers and supports.  

For years, Connor witnessed this predicament with her disabled peers and neurodiverse adults around her. They were, alongside many others, not receiving the same opportunities as neurotypical people—people who do not display atypical thought patterns. They couldn’t get out into the community regularly, couldn’t make their own decisions, and found themselves with a general air of loneliness.  

At first, she thought she could help young children by studying Early Childhood Education and Special Education. But after her first semester, she knew she wanted to focus solely on Special Education. She is working on minoring in American Sign Language and Autism Studies alongside it.  

RELATED: Inspiring Friendships Through Day Sharing  

“I love seeing how happy Virginia and Emmy get whenever we’re hanging out,” says Connor. “Emmy’s mom and staff were talking to me one day, and they were saying how they don’t get to do this often and thanked me for taking the time to be with them. It’s meaningful because their smiles are contagious, and I feel that same happiness whenever I see them.”  

KenCrest’s Day Sharing program is more than making connections in the community, it is a way for the people we support to create meaningful, lasting friendships like Connor, Virginia, and Emmy’s.  

While KenCrest’s Day Sharing program is not accepting new partners currently, interested parties can learn more about the program by clicking the link below. Check back often to learn about when our program is taking new partners!