Locals moms focus on ‘Friendship Factor’

Josie Sandoval and Denise LeMons raise diversity awareness through camp

Photo by Veronica Felix-Alfaro Denise LeMons is seen here with Dashiell LeMons and Grace Halwes.

Two local Culver City moms are “promoting diversity, inclusion and mental well-being while raising neuro-diversity awareness in their community,” through the Friendship Factor, a non-profit organization. Josie Sandoval and Denise LeMons are the two founders, both parents who lived in the same condo complex. “Our sons attend the same elementary school-El Rincon, and our families would go trickor-treating together,” they told the News. “Denise is a creative professional with years of experience in manufacturing, design, and product development. Josie is an expert in the financial services industry, specializing in securities and investments. In the past three years our friendship as mothers has grown closer, now both coparenting our 9 and 8-year-old sons, we’ve come together with heightened purpose.” Both women are parents of autistic children, and disability advocates. Along their path, they “identified a void in special need’s social skills training for more enriching, cultural, and fun experiences that could spur authentic social interaction for kids and families and serve as a bridge to fostering friendships for individuals with and without disabilities. “We set out to provide such a resource to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion for neurodiverse and neuro-typical children and their families,” they said. “The Friendship Factor, a summer inclusion camp, was launched in July 2021 during the pandemic, when there was a lack of available in-person events for kids and families. We consulted with behavioral and occupational therapists to develop a program curriculum offering opportunities for naturalistic environment teaching, social emotional development, sensory play, and creative projects to encourage teamwork, curiosity, self-confidence, empathy, and belonging through shared experiences and peer support.” Sandoval and LeMons’ mission with the Friendship Factor is to “expand an immersive approach to raising resilient and empathetic children while advancing the neurodiverse community through the 4 Pillar Program: Play it Forward, Snack and Chat, Join and Learn, and Relax and Reset, all fundamental practices that support positive sociability, mindfulness, and well-being. Through, for example, arts and crafts, team sports, and storytelling, the camp will focus on promoting fun, creative and collaborative activities, reciprocal relationships, and helping the participants be more accepting of and responsive to children who relate and play in different ways.” Ultimately, their vision is to “create inclusive and caring communities to foster friendships and opportunities that transcend differences and abilities.” For more information, visit thefriendshipfactor.org, or email Denise LeMons at hello@thefriendshipfactor.org

“The Friendship Factor, a summer
inclusion camp, was launched in
July 2021 during the pandemic,
when there was a lack of available
in-person events for kids and
families.” — Josie Sandoval and