A CORPS OF 90 TEENS was honored at the annual Friendship Circle (FC) Volunteer Celebration for their service to the organization’s mission of providing support, friendship, and inclusion to children and young adults with special needs.
The June 4 event, which drew over 300 guests, was held for the first time at LifeTown, the FC’s center in Livingston that offers recreational, therapeutic, and educational facilities, including the LifeTown Shoppes, a simulated downtown offering “real-life” experiences for participants.
FC’s teen volunteers, who engage with FC participants in a wide range of activities, represented 18 area high schools and middle schools. FC presidents, who act as ambassadors for the organization in their schools, ran a Chinese auction, which the volunteers participated in using Friendship Points earned through their FC activities.
Executive director Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum presented an award to Rita Waldor of South Orange—who died July 5—whose late husband was a driving force in starting the Friendship Circle. Grossbaum recalled how Jerry Waldor had envisioned the FC’s impact, saying, “When these teens volunteer and realize the difference that they can make in somebody’s life — that will change our community, not only today but for the future.”
Rabbi Levi Grossbaum, director of operations, presented the President’s Volunteer Service Award to 10 recipients, among them Amanda Friedman, a rising junior at Livingston High School, who said, “As a Jew, I believe it is extremely important to support others and help in the community.”
Volunteers Gehrig Rosenthal and Mitchell Limsky, both rising juniors at Livingston High School, said they enjoy playing sports with Friendship Circle participants. “Watching the kids play basketball and seeing their faces light up when they make a basket — it is an inspiring and humbling experience,” said Mitchell. Gehrig said, “It’s important for us to give back to the community, and it’s so gratifying to be able to help these kids achieve something new.”
Volunteer Max Zwain, 30, talked about the obstacles he faces as a young man on the autism spectrum, with Russell Silver syndrome. “I have a special purpose and mission in this world, which is to be a source of encouragement and inspiration to the people around me and to give back some of the love and support given to me,” he said. “Nothing provides me with as many outlets for accomplishing all of this as the Friendship Circle and LifeTown.”
Amanda Neff, an FC president and recent Livingston High School graduate, started volunteering as part of her bat mitzvah project. Volunteers, she said, give their time “to teach, to listen, to help, to inspire, to build, to grow, and to learn. My Friendship Circle friends have given me so much more than I have given them.”