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Window To Our World

Teenager = Generate

February 24, 2010

What comes to mind when you hear the word "teenager"?

Is it late-night parties? Crazy fads? Rebellious streaks? Self-expression to the max? The truth is that every teen is different, and when I think back to my own teenage years, I can't really relate to much of the above, but I had my quirks. Though teens tend to get a lot of flack for it, I think we can all agree that the teenage years are essential and not to be underestimated. Why is that? Is it because teens possess unadulterated idealism that motivates them? Is it because they are more attracted to out-of-the-box thinking than adults? Is it because when their energy is properly harnessed, they can accomplish far more than seasoned professionals?

Only several weeks ago, we concluded the 4th Annual Convention of Friendship Circle Volunteers. Friendship Circles from all over the USA and Canada selected teens to represent their branch, and gain from the networking and workshops at the convention. Yes, they were teenagers, but it wasn't the bling or hi-tech atmosphere that attracted them. It wasn't even the weather (some might say that Detroit isn't one of their top 10 sites to visit mid-winter). This group of teens gathered together for one purpose: to celebrate children with special needs and learn to share the message with others.

With trips, training and time to compare notes and experiences, these teens were prepared for the highlight of the weekend. They elected a new Leadership Board to represent and guide the International Volunteer Network. The new board includes Adina Israel of Connecticut, Sarah Horvitz of Pennsylvania, Halyse Kole from Illinois and Sage Knapp of Arizona. With hundreds of miles between them, this group of teens needed little coaching to get to work. After our very first web conference, they had plans and lists of committees, email drafts, and lots of energy, ready to work the phones and social networking outlets to promote their new initiatives.

As adults, we understand the importance of being involved in something larger than ourselves. We know that to achieve happiness, we need to work in the service of others. We now have teens realizing this same ideal. They are working to spread this virtue amongst their peers and promote the popularity of dedicating oneself to public service.

So when you hear of a child with special needs on the invite list of a popular teen's party, or when a teen you know opts out of weekend plans to spend time with their special friend, and when you see that cool kid break away from a group to chat with the kid in a wheelchair, or answer back when degrading words are used to describe a kid who's different... don't be surprised! You'll know a Friendship Circle teen has been there... and in 77 other locations around the world!

An Inside Perspective

February 10, 2010

I had once volunteered for Friendship Circle while spending a weekend in Ohio, and I really enjoyed it. So in 2003, when Friendship Circle opened a branch in my community, I was excited to join.

I was an active volunteer, visiting my special friend once a week, and participated in all programs. Each visit left me feeling fulfilled; I was helping someone special, and simultaneously learning so much from my new friend. I never really gave much thought to her day-to-day life, how she coped and adapted; this was something removed from my personal life. After all, she was not my relative, so I was just being helpful, for one hour a week, to someone who needed a friend.

Three years later, my perspective changed. In December 2006, my youngest brother, Boruch Shneur, was born. Boruch Shneur is blessed with Down Syndrome. I know that seems like an oxymoron. To me, it seemed like that too. Initially I was shocked beyond belief. Being a Friendship Circle volunteer before my brother was born gave me an opportunity to view life from a different perspective. But, although I was involved in Friendship Circle, I maintained an outsider's view. It was something that happened to other people, not to me and my "normal" family. It took me a while to find the blessing in it, but with support, understanding and empathy from my parents and some friends, and after reading various articles related to Down Syndrome, I began seeing how having Boruch Shneur in my family is truly a blessing and a part of G‑d's perfect master plan.

One particular analogy in the context of challenges, suffering and pain had a real impact on me. As told by a friend, life is a tapestry, woven by a master weaver or artist. If one looks at the tapestry from behind, all you see are knots and random threads. But if you look at it from the front, you see a beautiful picture. G‑d is the Master Weaver. The world, and everything that happens in this world, is the tapestry. Now we only see the tapestry from the back; there are things we don't understand and seem so complicated. But I know that when Moshiach will arrive, we will see the tapestry from the front. A beautiful picture awaits us, and we will see how everything G‑d did, the good and the seemingly not good, were all part of His master plan to make this world complete.

The Number that Matters

February 3, 2010


59,023. That's how many people took a minute of their time last week to vote for Friendship Circle. 59,023 people carried my favorite organization to #4 out of 100 non-profits in the Chase Community Giving Challenge. 59,023 people took the time to think about children with special needs and show their support.

16,289. That's how many people watched a YouTube video of us 190 volunteers freezing in place at the Pistons game last week. Freeze for Friendship caught the attention of thousands of sports fans who came to watch a game, and left inspired. That night the Pistons won; six days later Friendship Circle won.

2,900,000. That's how many people watch the Early Morning Show on CBS. I was watching, too, and in the crowd of 150 Friendship Circle volunteers I recognized faces. Hey, I just met Jessica at the International Conference a few weeks ago; how did she get famous so quickly?

Now let's try facts.

How about the fact that my Facebook feed was filled with the same "Vote for Friendship Circle" icon all week long, because my friends changed their profile pictures to show support for us? (Can you guys change your pictures back to your faces? I really miss you!)

How about the fact that we are up there with cool organizations like Invisible Children and TWLOHA?

How about the fact that all my friends are begging me for my American Apparel "VOTE FC" tee-shirt? (Thanks, American Apparel, for sponsoring! You guys are awesome.)

Now for the number and fact that matters.

Josh is 5, and this week he got his first volunteer. Her name is Amanda. I know her from school, and I always thought she was a snob. You know, the kind of girl who is always judging you. We were standing outside school giving out "VOTE FC" cards when Amanda passed by. I raised some courage, gave her a card and asked her to vote. Amanda wanted to know what Friendship Circle is. I shared some of my enthusiasm and inspiration with her, and Amanda said, okay, I'll vote, but where do I sign up to volunteer? So, Josh finally has a visiting volunteer, Amanda has a big mitzvah, and I have a new friend. Now that's a fact that matters.

Chase Bank, can you hear me?

Friendship Circle is today's fastest growing Jewish organization for children with special needs. With over 76 locations worldwide Friendship Circle has cultivated friendships between 5,000 special children and close to 11,000 teen volunteers.

The unique vision of the Rebbe that "none of us are complete unless all of us are included" provides our motivation to bridge the gap between families of children with special needs and the general community while providing today’s teens with a productive and enjoyable focus.

Window To Our World, presented by Friendship Circle International, will share with you the inside perspective of special children, their families, volunteers, community members and Friendship Circle coordinators who bring them together.

For more information, please visit the Friendship Circle website.

Click here for an insightful video about special needs children.

Moderated by Rochel Groner, Friendship Circle International
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