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Chabad hosts teenage cyclists on a mission
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Chabad hosts teenage cyclists on a mission

Five teenage bicycle riders stayed at Manalapan’s Chabad of Western Monmouth County near the start of a weeklong ride from New York to Washington to raise funds for Friendship Circle International.

The first-ever Bike 4 Friendship Teens group peddled out of Crown Heights in Brooklyn on Aug. 20, spending their first night on the road at the Manalapan Chabad.

Chana’le Wolosow, director of the Manalapan Friendship Circle, said it was an honor to host the young men who had undertaken such an arduous mission for the sake of the Chabad-run organization, which provides programming for children with special needs.

“We invited the 25 kids in our summer camp program and all the volunteers to come in a half-hour early so that they could share a breakfast with the cycle team,” she said. “The turnout was nearly unanimous.”

Led by Yitzi Smith, a 26-year-old experienced cyclist, the teens, aged 14 to 17, were scheduled to reach the suburbs of Philadelphia on the second day. Additional stopovers were planned for Newark, Del.; Baltimore; and the nation’s capital, where they would celebrate Shabbat. A support van driven by Zalman Groner accompanied the group.

The tour was a companion to the second annual Bike 4 Friendship coast-to-coast adult tour, which started in California and ended in Manhattan on Aug. 19, raising more than $71,000 for Friendship Circle International. The five teen riders hoped to add a meaningful share to the total.

By the end of the week, the young cyclists — Isaiah Coplon of Chester, Pa.; Zion Giahn of Queens; Yaakov Hawk and Benjamin Watman, both from Woodmere, NY; and Yigal Spaerstein of Lawrence, NY — planned to cover approximately 250 miles.

The Manalapan Friendship Circle, launched in 2001, boasts a variety of programs matching area teen volunteers and children with special needs, including weeklong summer and winter camps; two-hour-long Sunday sessions offering music, arts, and sports; and Thursday afternoon activities such as swimming and sports.

“In the near future, we plan to begin a Mommy and Me program, which would mean we’d be serving children as young as 18 months,” Wolosow said.

School-age kids are the prime group serviced at present, although there also is a Young Adult Division that accommodates people into their early 20s.

Most of the youth riders have been volunteers at their own local Friendship Circles for a year or more. Hawk worked with Friendship Circle for almost three years, often participating in the Buddies at Home program making home visits to kids who are either unable or unwilling to come to the center. He also founded Bowling Buddies, which has helped 15 special-needs children in his hometown of Woodmere.

Training for the five-day bike tour was largely self-directed, the teens explained. Watman reported riding 30-35 miles every day for more than three months. Saperstein said he had an internship in Manhattan all summer; each day he would bring his bike to work either in his father’s car or by train, and then ride it home each night — 32 miles to Long Island’s Five Towns district.

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