A record-setting crowd of 800 supporters gathered March 10 for the Friendship Circle’s annual banquet, where they paid tribute to Regal Bank and three couples instrumental in securing a permanent building for the organization’s LifeTown project in Livingston.
The gala was held for the first time in the future home of LifeTown, a $13 million facility that will offer therapeutic and recreational programs for children with special needs. A major component of the project is Life Village, a fully functioning “town” with stores and businesses, where young adults will be able to learn life skills.
Friendship Circle founder and executive director Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum told participants that all its major accomplishments are “the result of a community that recognized a need and took action.”
Honorees at the banquet were Barbara and Dr. Andrew Hutter, Lynn and Edward Walsh, and Susanne and Steve Newmark.
Andrew Hutter is a surgeon at the Center for Orthopaedics in West Orange. Ed Walsh is principal at Avison Young’s NJ office and is overseeing the redevelopment of the FC building into LifeTown. Susanne Newmark, the founder of Newmark Associates, was instrumental in finding the property that will be home to LifeTown.
Also honored was Regal Bank, a local financial institution dedicated to improving the community and a longtime supporter and promoter of the Friendship Circle.
The honorees each received an inscribed sterling silver globe.
Building schematics and sketches were on display showing what LifeTown will look like when completed.
“I implore each and every one of you to get involved with the Friendship Circle and LifeTown,” said Regal Bank board chair David Orbach, as he accepted the award.
Newmark told the audience, “Because of you, a little girl in a wheelchair will be able to roll into a zero-entry pool, an autistic child will learn life skills, and a mother will have a respite, secure in the knowledge her child is in good hands.
“There will be miracles happening here each and every day,” Newmark said.
In his acceptance speech, Walsh noted that in all his years in project management, he has “never seen such community involvement as I have here, and that is a testament” to Friendship Circle directors Toba and Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum.
The Friendship Circle, which is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, was created to ensure that all children, regardless of their abilities, get the same opportunities to be kids, make friends, and have fun. It also provides support to parents of children with special needs and severe illnesses.
Eric and Patty Harvitt of Warren, first-time attendees, were pleased by the venue. “It looks very impressive what they are building here,” said Eric. “It was totally the right place to have the event, because you come here and see what they are trying to do.”
“It’s an amazing situation where so many people come out to support an organization for children,” said Steve Greenfield of West Orange, who attended the event with his wife, Ilene.
The Greenfields know first-hand the crucial role the agency plays. “We have a child in the family who has benefited from the Friendship Circle,” said Greenfield. As volunteers, “being able to give back to people who can use it just makes us feel good.”
Rabbi Grossbaum also announced the establishment of the Alumni Circle, which will reconnect former FC teen volunteers with their former special friends. “We each have the opportunity to make a difference,” he told the gathering.