May 27, 2024
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The Meaning Behind Friendship Circle

The Friendship Circle of Fairfield County is a nonprofit organization that helps children with special needs and families. However, there is so much more to this organization. “The Friendship Circle of Fairfield County was founded on the idea that within each person is a soul, regardless of any limitations that may surround it … Here, we make friends!” This statement is the first thing anyone sees when they open the website for The Friendship Circle, and it is very compelling.

I am going into my fourth year of actively volunteering for The Friendship Circle, but I have always been a part of their community. Before the pandemic, I would volunteer at Children’s Circle on Sunday mornings at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy, where children with special needs are paired with buddies who do different activities with them. In my first year, I volunteered with a close friend of mine, and this became a highlight of the week for both of us. Not only did we enjoy hanging out and building a connection with our new shared friend, but we truly felt the difference that we were making in not only our buddy’s life but his family’s as well.

I remember how our friend’s mother would always greet Erica and me with the biggest smile when she came to pick her son up. She wasn’t the only one beaming: Our friend was, too.

The philosophy of The Friendship Circle is that everyone can do anything they set their mind to, and it doesn’t matter how many limitations one has—there will always be someone there to help. Children and adults with special needs are not viewed as people with disabilities, rather, as human beings with big hearts who need a little help seizing the day. Volunteers are not considered babysitters of the children, but we are friends, buddies and comforters. During just three hours, a child can go from tantrums and tears to smiles and hugs.

From firsthand experience, I can say that these children have so much potential and capability. My buddy was not only able to dance and play music better than I, but he is a better artist, too. He taught me as much as I taught him. The Friendship Circle helps to create bonds and solidify friendships.

The Friendship Circle also treats its volunteers with so much gratitude, respect and kindness. Every morning Malya Shmotkin, Chani Cunin or one of the staff would bring treats for the volunteers as well as raffle prizes. The opportunities and appreciation that volunteers receive are endless. I have learned so much about giving back to my community, about chesed and about Judaism from The Friendship Circle. I know the other volunteers, as well as the participants, have as well.

The Friendship Circle stands for kindness, creativity and appreciation. The founding idea—that we are all friends, that everyone matters—is apparent every time we meet. The Friendship Circle has helped me become a better person, and has gifted its children with the most precious gift of all—a friend and companion.

When Chani Cunin, one of the program’s volunteer coordinators, was asked to share a special story that showed the power of Friendship Circle and its significance, she shared this one: “A mom once called Malya and told her that her adult son got a phone call from his Friendship circle volunteer. It sounds so typical—a child getting a phone call from a friend. But it was so emotional for her because this is the first time in his life that he got a call from a friend. That’s the power of Friendship Circle.

“The best part of Friendship Circle is that it’s a group effort,” Cunin continued. “It’s not just one person. It’s the teen volunteers, the parents, the individuals with special needs, the supporters, the staff, the community. We all come together, and that’s what makes the magical friendships happen. Like a family. That’s what makes the change.”

To find out more about Friendship Circle of Fairfield County, visit https://www.friendshipct.com.


 

Julianne Katz is a rising senior at BCHA and a summer intern at The Jewish Link.

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