Cycling for friendship

Cycling for friendship

Friendship Circle participant Hannah Solomon is helped on to her new bicycle by her dad, Jerry, as her mom, Lori, looks on.
Friendship Circle participant Hannah Solomon is helped on to her new bicycle by her dad, Jerry, as her mom, Lori, looks on.

One hundred children with special needs received a gift of new wheels last week at an event attended by over 500 people.

Their bicycles, however, were no ordinary two-wheelers. The children received custom-made, adaptive bicycles, some tandem, enabling them safely to experience the joys of bike riding this summer at Olivia’s Friendship Cycle, a June 26 event held at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston.

The initiative was the brainchild of 11-year-old Olivia Lefkovitz of Livingston, an avid cyclist herself, searching for a meaningful project she could do in honor of her upcoming bat mitzva. Inspired by her elder siblings’ volunteer work with the Friendship Circle, a community organization serving families with children with special needs, Olivia combined her two passions to create Olivia’s Friendship Cycle.

With the help of her parents, Jeffrey and Marci Lefkovitz, Olivia raised some $65,000 to provide bikes for nearly 100 Friendship Circle children. The Friendship Circle spent from $250 to over $4,000 for the bicycles, which ranged from standard bikes with adaptive wheels to custom therapeutic ones.

“The bikes don’t just ‘accommodate’ the children, they enable them,” said mommy blogger Ellen Seidman, and mother of eight-year-old Max, who has cerebral palsy. “This is the first bike Max can use independently, and with that comes an incredible freedom and confidence…when he’s on that bike he can be like any other kid.”

For Friendship Circle director Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, Olivia’s Friendship Cycle was about helping children with special needs reach another milestone that typically developing children get to experience. “Everyone remembers their first bicycle, what color it was, who helped them learn to ride,” Grossbaum said. “We’re so proud we can give the children those precious moments of freedom.”

Hal Sass, described watching his daughter Danielle, who was born with a rare brain disorder. “She’s been through numerous surgeries, has a limited use of her right arm, yet here she is riding a bike.” He added, “What Olivia has done, what the Lefkovitses have done, it’s unreal. Their generosity is unbelievable.”

Olivia’s Friendship Cycle event also kicked off a cross-country cycling trip of three yeshiva students, Daniel Saul of Pittsburgh, Zalman Perlman of Los Angeles, and Shmuel Rothstein, a Baltimore native. The seven-week, New Jersey-to-California bike tour will promote the mission of the Friendship Circle, in connecting teenage volunteers with children and teens with special needs.

“It’s so great to see all the smiling faces and shiny new bikes,” said Olivia. “I am so honored that in some small way I am able to be part of so many summer dreams.”

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