June 19, 2024
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June 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

FC Walk and Run Was Just Amazing

Throngs of people joined the festivities at LifeTown on Sunday, October 30, for the annual Friendship Circle walk, now a walk and run. For the first time, the walk was preceded by a 5K run that attracted 112 runners. Hundreds more participated in the annual Friendship Circle Walk, with an estimated 2,000 in attendance over the course of the day.

The run and run raised funds and awareness for Friendship Circle and LifeTown, which provide programs that benefit children, teens, and young adults with special needs and their families.

“Races are fun, especially with the number of people we’re going to have here today,” said Ari Wise of Livingston, a longtime Friendship Circle volunteer and a runner who helped organize the 5K. “You can always run on a Sunday morning by yourself. When you run with this kind of excitement, it makes it that much more fun.”

Some, like Ryan Teicher, came to support their children. A runner with marathons and half-marathons under his belt, Teicher’s son Jonah is a Friendship Circle participant.

Others came to support the organization. Robin Amster of West Orange, whose grown children volunteered for Friendship Circle as teenagers said “My heart is still with this organization…If I’m going to be running today anyway, I might as well do it for Friendship Circle!”

Bryson and Mackenzie Fonnville of Randolph have been running 5Ks through the fall around the area. This week, they chose the Friendship Circle inaugural 5K because Mackenzie’s older brother has autism. “We like to run 5Ks but we also like to support amazing programs that help people. So when I saw the opportunity to do this, I thought, this is perfect.”

More than a few were running their first 5K. Susan Schaechter of Cedar Grove decided she wanted to run a 5K before her upcoming 70th birthday. Shira Stein decided to take on the run “to stand tall with volunteers and the Friendship Circle families.” She trained in the weeks leading up to the run with Friendship Circle founders, Rabbi Zalman and Toba Grossbaum, and Rabbi Yisroel Rosenblum, who also ran for the first time.

They were not the youngest in the crowd: At least one runner had not even reached double digits. Eli Sobel of Roseland, just 7 years old (“I’m almost 8!”) ran with his mother, Melissa Sobel. They were running in memory of Eli’s grandfather, Ivan Sobel, a longtime Friendship Circle supporter.

While the runners were still on the course, homemade signs started to fill the air and families gathered and greeted one another under their banners: “Rebecca’s World” or “Team Trenk.”

Standing under a “Team Cole” sign, Clare Harelik Mevorah said, “There’s nowhere else that you can bring children with special needs and have so much programming and events and support for not only the children, but the whole family.” She’s been involved since her son Cole, now in the young adult group, started to participate in the children’s program.

While 12-year-old Thea Gardin and her father Dov ran in the 5K, her mother, Hannah Gardin came a little later with the family’s 2-year-old dog, Shadow, to join the walk. A second daughter is a Friendship Circle participant. “Friendship Circle does amazing work and we want to get the word out!” said Hannah.

After the walk, longtime Friendship Circle participants Rebecca Seid and Zachary Ennis, now part of the 21 and older group, were all smiles. Rebecca loved having dogs join the group on the walk, she said. Zachary said, “I liked walking with my friends and family.”

Elit Kirschenbaum, who was getting ready for the walk with her sister, her husband, and her daughter Ivy, the youngest of four, who participates in the Friendship Circle, offered a very personal window into what makes the Friendship Circle so special.

Elit recalls coming to the walk shortly after her youngest was born with special needs 11 years ago. She had been invited by a friend, arrived with all four of her children, looked around at the other families, and fell into a kind of shock. “I just stood there, and I couldn’t move,” she recalled.

Although they had not met yet, Friendship Circle executive director Toba Grossbaum saw her reaction. “She immediately went and got volunteers to grab my other three children, who were 8 and 5 and 3, and take them off to the bouncy houses and the rides and everything to give me time to kind of process what was happening to my life.”

That was the beginning of the Friendship Circle’s outreach, something she needed but could not have dreamed existed. “Toba became an integral part of my life. She was the one that would come over with challahs and come over with a million types of formula when Ivy wasn’t thriving…she was the one that would call me to check in. She made sure that we were taken care of in a way that no one else knew how to take care of us.”

Elit is clear about the difficult road she and her family have traveled, and the years it took for them to feel comfortable at the walk. “What we found was that every year, we had a tremendous amount of support at the walk. And we eventually got to the point where now, coming to the walk is wonderful,” she said. “I love bringing new people to the walk because they get to experience our lives and see that even though it’s different, it’s not scary and it’s not sad. It gives them a new perspective.”

Finishing the walk, Cole Mevorah was all smiles. “How much fun did you have?” asked his mother. And his smile grew even larger as he moved his head to respond and register his joy, and the family headed off to enjoy some of the afternoon’s activities, which included, inflatables, the petting zoo, plenty of food, an arcade, face painting, music, and a show featuring acrobatics presented by Cirque-Tacular Entertainment.

“It was a perfect day all around, from the weather to the amazing turnout,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum. “The new run added an extra excitement to what has always been a special day for the families and the entire community. With 2,000 in attendance, the Friendship Circle walk and run makes a statement about how important inclusion is and the impact we are all having,” he said.

By Johanna Ginsberg


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