Some 50 teenage volunteers who provide much-needed friendship for children with special needs gathered for a three-day conference in suburban Detroit, flying in for the occasion from cities around the world.

The third-annual Friendship Circle Volunteers Conference was held in Life Town, an award-winning mock up of a real town run by the founding chapter of the Friendship Circle – a Chabad-Lubavitch institution founded in 1994 to break down the barriers children with special needs face in their schools and communities. Building on resolutions implemented in past conferences, the weekend gathering focused on encouraging cooperation between regional chapters.

“The workshops were incredible,” related Sara Margolis, a volunteer coordinator for the Friendship Circle in Stamford, Conn. “The ideas shared and the energy of the attendees was really remarkable. There’s something about this conference that makes people connect.”

To help usher in Shabbat, Aliza Weiss, a volunteer from Cleveland, Ohio, read a poem during the Friday night candle-lighting ceremony. Carolyn Morris, a mother of a child with special needs, offered a personal reflection on the needed work volunteers provide.

After the conference, Rabbi Zelik Moscowitz, director of the Friendship Circle of Illinois, noted that his volunteers returned with a contagious excitement.

“It has made an incredible impact,” he said. “They have a renewed commitment to not only the Friendship Circle, but to the community as well.”