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Circle of Friends Ministry Holding 20-Year Anniversary Reunion Jan. 11


Last updated 1/8/2020 at 10:46am

Circle of Friends

POP Program participants at Circle of Friends Ministry

Twenty years ago one determined Lake Wales mother decided children with disabilities deserved better. Mertice Fehringer (now Kelly) didn't like the fact that her daughter Connie and other children with special needs were pretty much ignored by the community.

What started as one Sunday School classroom at First Assembly of God (now IMPACT) Church grew into the full-time Circle of Friends Ministry, which will celebrate its 20th Anniversary Reunion Saturday, Jan. 11. The celebration, open to the public, starts at 2 p.m. at the ministry's headquarters at 105 E. Stuart Ave. in historic downtown Lake Wales.

The program begins with opening ceremonies by Kelly and husband Bob, Mayor Eugene Fultz and Impact Church pastor Walter Nelson. Board chair Rafael Unzueta and Crystal Higbee will serve as emcees. Sheriff Grady Judd will speak at 3:30 p.m.

The anniversary celebration includes a barbecue dinner for $10 from 2:30-8 p.m., which includes barbecue chicken, potato salad, baked beans, soda, water and a cookie.

Circle students will perform and from 2:30-5 p.m. there will be music by DJ Harlow, door prizes, silent auction, face painting and various games, including corn hole and Connect 4. There will also be a pie eating contest for a $5 entry fee and a cake walk for a $2 fee.

The event will include the ministry's annual Chili Challenge, starting at 5 p.m. For a $3 ticket, or $1.50 for those 12 and under, the challenge includes all you can eat chili, with cheese, corn chips, crackers and sour cream. Sponsored in part by Family Elder Law, the Chili Challenge is expected to attract some past years' winners, who will be vying for people's choice or other awards to be presented at 6:30 p.m.

The reunion event will close out with dancing in the streets to a live band from 5 to 8 p.m.

Circle of Friends ministry is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that relies on sponsors and donors to invest in the lives of special students, who have aged out of regular school programs.

Circle of Friends

Daughter Connie inspired Mertice Fehringer Kelly to start Circle of Friends Ministry 20 years ago

Circle operates a Proclaiming Our Potential program structured to integrate students into society by participating in outreach, events, fundraising and job training. The students enjoy instruction in music, visual and culinary arts. They participate by running a snack shack and gift shop, and can build reading and math skills through general education programs.

"This is a program where differences are celebrated and students are elevated," the ministry website says about the POP program. "We believe that each child is born with God-given gifts and talents. Here at the Circle of Friends we work with each student to capture and grow these talents.

"Building each student's life skill set is a priority for our team. Our goal is to help each student reach a place of independence in society. The most important experience each student has is acceptance and love."

For more information, contact Circle of Friends at 863-679-2507, email [email protected] or visit the website at


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