Inspired by Chabad and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Friendship Circle in Fairfield County is one of the fastest-growing Jewish organizations in the area. Located on Hope Street, in Stamford, Connecticut, the organization has worked with more than 764 volunteers since 2000, served more than 503 children and families and provided 37,451 service hours since its inception.
Malya Shmotkin, executive director, explained that Friendship Circle of Fairfield County was one of the first five Friendship Circles to be established; the first one was in Detroit. Located in Stamford, the organization services those living in the many towns in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Friendship Circle, a Chabad initiative, follows the Rebbe’s philosophy of providing unconditional love for everyone. To the Rebbe, there were no divisions among the Jewish people and his belief in Jewish unity extended to the concept of Friendship Circle, where every individual is made to feel important and loved, and is provided with excellent services.
Friendship Circle’s mission is “to bridge the gap between special needs and typical youth through shared experience, empower special needs youth with the skills they need to live a productive and independent adult life, give parents and families much-needed respite, and nurture a sense of awareness and communal responsibility in our teens.” The many activities provided by Friendship Circle include home visits, Hebrew school, winter camp and athletic events as well as holiday celebrations and special, timely programs.
The noted “Helping Hands” program consists of teenagers from day schools and private schools visiting Friendship Circle families twice a week, where the teenage volunteers engage in activities with children with special needs and, in doing so, become their friends. On Sunday morning, once or twice a month, Friendship Circle meets at the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy of Connecticut where participants engage in varied activities. Bowling is popular with many kids, and the eagerly awaited Winter Camp, for children ages 5 to 12, will run from December 24 to December 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at various local venues, providing swimming and gym time and lots of other games and activities, as well as special trips. The Stepping Stones Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut, was the site of this year’s Friendship Circle huge Chanukah celebration.
Lenore Fogel assists with PR for Friendship Circle and discussed the special Mom’s Shabbaton recently offered to moms of children with special needs. This “take-away spa” weekend, held in Mystic, Connecticut, was a Chabad-sponsored kosher retreat, where moms were pampered and felt relaxed. Meals were provided and motivational speakers offered encouraging talks. Activities included a cupcake war and tile-craft, with moms making their own challah boards. Many raffles and treats were offered, and participants could pay the nominal cost of the shabbaton or elect not to do so. Fundraising activities during the year, such as the Friendship Day Walk in May, help provide financial support for the organization’s many programs.
By Yvette Finkelstein