Sponsored by Friendship Circle

When a child is diagnosed with a special need, parents devote their time and energy to ensure the best possible outcomes for that child. Often forgotten is the need for friendships essential to every child’s success in life. That is where Friendship Circle steps in.

When Bassie and Rabbi Levi Shemtov founded Friendship Circle in 1994 it was with one purpose, to offer friendship to those who needed it most.

“We began Friendship Circle by meeting with community leaders community,’” says Levi. “We learned how isolating it can be for families of children with special needs.”

Bassie and Levi reached out to those families and offered them the opportunity for their child to meet with a ‘Buddy’ at their home for a couple hours after school each week. Teens from across the community volunteered their time to become Friendship Circle Buddies at the Shemtov home. This was the beginning of Friendship Circle’s Afterschool, Weekend and Camp Programming.

The programs are held at the Ferber Kaufman Lifetown on Friendship Circle’s Meer Center. They combine structured activities and free play throughout the facility for children and their Buddies.

The Bauer activity wing is equipped with art rooms, waterplay room, life skills room, music areas and a calming room. Children also take part in art, music, baking, play in the Elkus gym and other activities each week.

“The need for belonging is the foundation of the other therapies and behavior work that happens for these children,” says Erin Berry, Friendship Circle Program Manager. “Bassie and Levi’s foundation for Friendship Circle comes to life every time a child walks through those doors.”

Friendship Circle also offers eight weeks of summer day camp, four days of overnight camp and a Miracle League baseball program, inclusive to everyone, with and without special needs. Many teens spend their summers volunteering and build amazing life experiences from their time with their Buddies.

“Early on we started seeing that the children with special needs were not the only ones receiving the gift of friendship,” Levi says. “Teens volunteering also needed a place where they felt accepted and could give something back to the world. At Friendship Circle, everyone is seen for who they are, not their diagnosis or who their parents are or what type of house they live in.”

While the facility itself is state-of-the-art, what makes Friendship Circle’s programs unique are the bonds made through unconditional love and acceptance.

“Our faith tells us every person is special and has a purpose,” says Bassie. “Individuals with special needs have this unique and beautiful ability to see life more simply, and often are closer to God because of that. Friendship Circle is a space where we are able to give and receive from each other, because we all have that special gift inside of us.”

To get involved, go to friendshipcircle.org/foreverfriendship

Read more: Small Acts of Kindness Make the Biggest Difference at Friendship Circle