Programs & Services

Program Descriptions:

Please note that there may be minor changes to the schedule or to the activities during the course of the summer.

Gardening (12 participants): Gardening takes place three mornings per week. We will meet at 8:00 am at the YMCA of Bristol and transport participants to the Viking Garden across from Tennessee High School or the Central Christian Hoop Houses at Central Christian Church. On gardening days we will be weeding, watering and harvesting produce. We donate most of our produce to the Bristol Emergency Food Pantry.

YMCA of Bristol (15 participants):  Our YMCA programs take place at the YMCA of Bristol. We lift weights, use cardio equipment, take part in yoga and play indoor games including basketball. We also review everyday goals with each participant. Activities are geared for all ability levels. All participants are required to have YMCA memberships. There is financial aid available through the Y.

Glenmary Farms (9 participants, ages 18 and up): We will be running a workforce program at Glenmary Farms each Tuesday morning. Occupational Therapy students from Emory and Henry College will be assisting. The program takes place at the Glenmary Farms greenhouse on Wallace Pike in Bristol VA. Glenmary Farms is a premier strawberry producer and we run student internships there during the school year. We will be pruning strawberry plants, folding boxes, picking strawberries and helping with cleanup tasks. We will meet each morning at 8:00 am at the YMCA of Bristol.

Camp Friendship (9 participants):The YMCA of Bristol has developed a new camp on South Holston Lake called Camp Friendship! The camp offers many different types of recreational programs including archery, boating, games, walking programs and crafts. We will be taking a small group of participants to Camp Friendship each Friday morning. We will meet at the YMCA at 8:00 am. Most days we will leave the camp by 12:00 pm and return to Bristol by 1:00 pm.

Theatre Bristol (12 participants): We will be running programs at Theatre Bristol on Monday and Wednesday mornings following our gardening programs. We will transport from the gardens or parents can drop participants off at Theatre Bristol at 9:45 on these mornings. We will be helping Theatre Bristol with projects in their building space, and we will be participating in acting classes with Theatre Bristol staff.

Tennessee Middle School (12 participants): During the month of June, we will be walking indoors with students, teachers and aids from Tennessee Middle School from 11:00 am- 12:00 pm on Monday and Wednesday mornings. We work with special education classes at Tennessee Middle during the school year, and we are looking forward to walking with them in their air conditioned gym this summer!

Theatre Bristol

Theatre Bristol Annual Performance

Theater provides a great opportunity for youth and young adults with differing abilities to show how they can contribute to our community. Each year, Theatre Bristol provides River’s Way participants with a chance to perform a play.

We are fortunate to have the help of Dottie Havlik who directs our efforts and who writes the plays. One unique aspect of these performances is that we act alongside Theatre Bristol actors and actresses. This makes for an inclusive experience where people of all abilities gain recognition for their talents.

Cafe Central

River’s Way worked with Bristol Tennessee City Schools and Bristol Virginia Public Schools to establish Cafe Central in December 2015. Our primary goal is to give students with disabilities the opportunity to develop workforce skills. Cafe Central enables students to learn how to prepare and serve food to the general public. The cafe also teaches students how to work as a team in accomplishing a very challenging task!

Cafe Central is located at Central Christian Church in Bristol, TN. The church was gracious in its offer to host the cafe and the members of the congregation see Cafe Central as a way to help people with disabilities to thrive in a community setting.

Cafe Central serves delicious meals every Friday during the school year with the exception of the third week in each month. Lunch includes soup, a sandwich and/or a salad and a dessert. In many cases we use produce from our gardens in preparing the lunches. The cost of a meal is $7.00 and it includes coffee and tea.

You would be hard pressed to find a better deal! You receive a great lunch at a great price and you help students to become skilled and productive workers in the process!

Directions to Central Christian Church.


Walking is central to nearly all River’s Way programs. Walking on a regular basis benefits health and it creates community. For people with differing abilities, walking is one of the best ways to prevent the early onset of chronic disease. Walking is also a proven means for building social connections. Both of these benefits can be experienced in in-person programs and in virtual programs.

We are able to work directly with gym classes, our inclusive walking programs enable us to impact over 1,000 middle school and high school students of all abilities. Students learn how to set goals for walking laps and they spend 30- 45 minutes walking in hallways, gymnasiums, or around the school track.

Our staff check in with students before and after each walking session to record the number of laps that students walk. Our Gamechangers are a part of each program and they set an example when it comes to effort and accountability. Walking programs are successful because they are inclusive, they promote 100% participation, they allow students to pursue individualized goals.


Gardening provides for a great learning tool. As with all of our programming, students with special needs have hands-on opportunities to learn the team skills that are essential to success in the workplace. Students also learn about gardening, and they learn about foods that many have never encountered.

In addition to providing produce for the Bristol Emergency Food Pantry, we also provide vegetables for our lunch program at Cafe Central where we strive to have our meals match the growing seasons of our many vegetables. Join us for a meal at Cafe Central and see how our efforts in the garden pay off when it comes to serving great food!

River’s Way has been working with special education students in gardens since 2011. One garden is located across the street from Viking Hall in Bristol TN. We also operate two hoop houses on the grounds of Central Christian Church in Bristol TN.

Gardening has proven to be a highly successful collaborative project involving Bristol TN City Schools, Bristol VA Public Schools, the Bristol Family YMCA, Appalachian Sustainable Development and Central Christian Church. The Bristol Morning Rotary Club, Appalachian Sustainable Development and Grow Appalachia were instrumental in helping us to construct our two hoop houses.

YMCA Fitness

The YMCA Bristol Fitness program works with an average of 8-15 youth and young adults with differing abilities and runs from 2:00-5:00 p.m., Monday-Thursday. Activities include weightlifting, yoga, cardio workouts, and walking. All activities are adapted to participants’ ability levels. YMCA memberships are required for this program.

For more information contact:

Tom Hanlon, or Matt Kyle,

Emory & Henry Programs

River’s Way teams with student volunteers from Emory and Henry College to host two Saturday programs per semester (Fall and Spring) with youth and young adults with disabilities. The River’s Way student organization at Emory and Henry College has provided volunteers for programming since 1996. Programs are held at the Emory and Henry College campus. These overnight and day programs provide campers with opportunities for positive social interaction and for continued involvement with River’s Way outside of school on weekends.

Students and participants must bring the required forms listed below:

​Respite Program Release

Health Information Form

​Medications Form (if medications are required)

For more information contact:

Tom Hanlon, 

Summer Programs 2024

Our summer programs start on Monday, June 5th, and run through Friday, July 21st (total of six weeks). Programs run from 8:00 am- 4:00 pm. Program participants can attend all or part of a day’s program. Those who require 1:1 assistance should have an attendant.

We have a variety of programs and participants can choose those that best fit their needs. Summer program activities include gardening, walking, fitness programs at the YMCA of Bristol, internships with Glenmary Farms, and theater programming with Theatre Bristol and goal setting. This is a great opportunity for young people with differing abilities, ages 14 and up, to be immersed in the community and be physically active while enjoying the company of good friends throughout the summer. Registration is required for all summer participants. Once you register, we will send you additional information.

If you have questions regarding summer programming, please contact Tom Hanlon ( or Matt Kyle (

To Register:

Complete the Registration Form by clicking the “Register” button below.

Fill out the Health Information Form, Program Release Form, and Medications Form (if medications are required) and return these to River’s Way by email, through the mail, or in-person.

Mailing Address:  River’s Way, 1227 Volunteer Parkway, Ste. 520, Bristol TN 37620

Email:  –or–