WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – “What would the world look like if we embraced and saw a world full of love in the absence of hate?”

It’s a question Ben French, President, and CEO of Shepherd’s Way, asked himself before embarking on a years-long journey to help and inspire individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I think that the first time that that really came to life in my life was when I met my friend Dallas,” said French.

Ben French and his friend Dallas pose for a picture (Courtesy: Shepherd’s Way)

French met Dallas, a young man with a developmental disability, through a Christian ministry about a decade ago. After a year of knowing each other, French learned Dallas and his family were going through a season of homelessness.

“We started down this path of what does the future look like for Dallas and really looking through that lens of love and hope and opportunity in the absence of fear and hopelessness and judgment,” French explained.

That’s when French had the bright idea to get an apartment and share it with Dallas. The two eventually moved in together, sharing a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Wichita. What started as a warm place for Dallas to sleep quickly turned into a safe space where Dallas would learn the ins and outs of what it takes to live on his own, eventually paving the way for Shepherd’s Way.

“We were really able to invest him,” French said. “In the course of six years, graduate him through a three-phase housing program where he gets to have full autonomy in this life. He gets to celebrate recently his five-year anniversary at two different jobs, and people in the community get to experience the pure and bottomless joy that Dallas has to bring.”

What is Shepherd’s Way?

Shepherd’s Way provides housing and life coaching for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The nonprofit places individuals who may need some extra help learning how to care for themselves with mentors.

“A mentor teaches life skills, is a friend, an advocate, helps with day-to-day things like getting your dishes done or doing your laundry or budgeting or making sure you have enough food, but also is somebody that you can talk to,” said mentor Jake Flesher.

Flesher joined Shepherd’s Way in December 2020. He currently lives in a three-bedroom home with two other individuals. He said he gets just as much out of the program as the participants.

Shepherd’s Way participants and mentors celebrate a birthday celebration (Courtesy: Shepherd’s Way)

“That is probably the greatest feeling in the world to get to help a guy with something that he has never been able to do in his entire life, and people have always told him that he will never be able to do it. When you teach it in a way that is understandable and digestible for him, and finally, the lightbulb goes off, you can just see him understand what that means. It’s the best feeling in the world to help these guys do that,” Flesher explained.

RJ Shortt joined the program in 2021. He calls his time at Shepherd’s Way “priceless.”

“Being here, I have been able to cook more stuff than I ever really have cooked. I have also learned how to wash the dishes and do laundry, and the mentors are pretty big. I think being independent is pretty important to me because then that helps me make better decisions,” said Shortt.