June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Friendship Circle: Beyond the Fringe

Friendship Circle (FC) offers access to those who may feel they are living on the fringes of the Jewish community due to the unique challenges of having a special needs child. A volunteer- based organization, FC aims to connect mainstream teens and children with special needs. Often, these children are unable to attend yeshiva day schools, leaving them socially isolated. By engaging these children and their families through educational and social opportunities, their connection to the Jewish community is strengthened. Not only do these activities provide the families with much needed respite and support, but they enrich and inspire the volunteers who share their time and talents.

Because a 1:1 ratio of special needs children and volunteers is crucial, FC could not function without the participation of as many volunteers as possible from ALL local shuls and schools.

But being fun and rewarding does not mean volunteering is intuitive. First time volunteers, along with a parent, attend an orientation that clearly maps out the various FC programs. This enables them to choose the programs that suit them best. Seminars, led by professionals trained in various fields, help to familiarize them with their responsibilities. The helpful hints, insights and ideas offered help enhance the rewarding experience of being a mentor and friend.

Friends at Home

The flagship program of FC, Friends at Home pairs teen volunteers with a special needs child and coordinates weekly home visits. Whether the volunteers help with homework, play games, or just chat with the child, they help make them feel less isolated from the Jewish community. Additionally, it provides other family members an opportunity to focus on each other, or themselves for an hour.

Most special needs children are unable to participate in extracurricular programming like their mainstream peers. FC provides them with a chance, under the guidance of teen volunteers and professionals, to participate in similar activities at their own pace and skill level. Sunday Circle (including activities like art, music, and entertainment), Sports night, Karate Circle, Cooking Circle are truly unique (and fun!) bonding experiences.

A twist on this concept is Teen Scene. The teen years come with their own set of challenges for all families. Once a week, special needs teens ages 13-21 get together with mainstream peers for trips, workshops, and sporting events. Not only do these fun activities help foster independence, socialization, proper behavior, and good sportsmanship, but they help the teens hone practical skills and create camaraderie.

It is not uncommon for special needs academic programs to run on a different calendar than the local yeshivot. Having different vacation schedules complicates family life even further. FC camp allows parents to carry on with their daily routine, knowing that their child is being cared for and entertained in a structured and nurturing environment.

Children and their families join volunteers to experience the magic of the various Jewish holidays. By offering crafts, games, entertainment, and refreshments, FC creates a safe and relaxed atmosphere where families can come together to celebrate our rich heritage.

The demands of having a special needs child can impact the entire family unit. By offering an array of programs, FC seeks to enhance the lives of moms, dads, siblings, and even grandparents. Programs such as Moms/Dads Night Out, Family Night Out, and Grandparents Workshop allow family members to relax and unwind while networking in a supportive environment.

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