Programs & Services

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

River’s Way summer programs provide a great opportunity for young people with differing abilities, ages 14 and up, to be immersed in the community and to be physically active while enjoying the company of good friends. We have a variety of programs and participants can choose those that best fit their needs. Activities include gardening, walking, fitness programs at the YMCA of Bristol and time spent at Theatre Bristol. We adapt programs to the needs and abilities of all participants, with physical activity and fun being at the core of most everything that we do.

Summer 2024 programs start on Monday, June 3rd, and run through Friday, August 2nd (a total of nine weeks). Programs run from 8:00 am- 4:00 pm. Participants can attend all or part of a day’s program. Those who require 1:1 assistance should have an attendant.

Registration is required for all summer participants. To register electronically, click on the “Register” button below. We also require a signed Program Release Form and Health Information Form for each participant. These forms can be emailed or mailed back using the addresses listed below.

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–

Additional Program Details:

We will meet at the YMCA of Bristol at 8:00 am Monday- Friday during the summer. Pick up time is 4:00 pm at the YMCA with the exception of Fridays when pick up time is 1:00 pm at the YMCA.

All participants of afternoon programs must have YMCA memberships. The YMCA will provide some financial assistance based on income levels. Memberships are obtained through the front office at the YMCA.

Participants should bring a water bottle, a snack and a packed lunch. We highly recommend sun block and hats as we will be outside while gardening and with some of our walking programs.

Our program days are divided into two parts:

  • Mornings are spent in the community with the primary activities being gardening and walking. (8 participant limit)
  • Afternoons are spent at the YMCA of Bristol with the primary activities being weightlifting, yoga and cardio exercises. (15 participant limit)

Summer 2024 Schedule:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
7:45-8:00 AM Meet at YMCA Meet at YMCA Meet at YMCA Meet at YMCA Meet at YMCA
8:15-9:30 AM Gardening Gardening Gardening Gardening Camp Friendship
Travel time to restroom break Travel time to restroom break Travel time to restroom break Travel time to restroom break Camp Friendship
10:00 AM YWCA TechGirls Walking Boys and Girls Club Walking Girls Inc. Walking Theatre Bristol Camp Friendship
11:00 AM YWCA TechGirls Walking Boys and Girls Club Walking Girls Inc. Walking Theatre Bristol Camp Friendship
12:00 PM Lunch at YMCA Lunch at YMCA Lunch at YMCA Lunch at YMCA Camp Friendship
1:00-2:00 PM YMCA – Weights YMCA – Weights YMCA – Weights YMCA – Weights
2:00-3:00 PM YMCA – Yoga YMCA – Yoga YMCA – Yoga YMCA – Yoga
3:00-4:00 PM YMCA – Walking YMCA – Walking YMCA – Walking YMCA – Walking
4:00 PM

Click here for the Summer 2024 Schedule