“The special thing about Nancy is that once she leaves Friendship Circle, she doesn’t stop being an advocate for children with special needs.”
The Friendship Circle of Michigan nominated Nancy Schulist of Farmington Hills to be our Volunteer of the Week for her years of dedication to the organization.
“The special thing about Nancy is that once she leaves Friendship Circle, she doesn’t stop being an advocate for children with special needs,” said Shayna Shemtov, Friendship Circle’s volunteer coordinator.
“She brings love and acceptance to people wherever she goes, be it in a park or a grocery store. She’s someone we can count on to spread the message of belonging to everyone!”
Schulist’s inspiration to volunteer at the nonprofit came from her passion to help kids after college.
“I was working as a teaching assistant for third graders. And I just tended to gravitate toward the kids who had special needs,” she said.
Years later, Schulist began looking for a place to volunteer. When she stumbled across an article about the Friendship Circle, she went to the facility to learn more. There she saw Friendship Circle’s Lessons for Life Program at Weinberg Village. Weinberg Village is the organization’s cityscape, where children with special needs come to experience life skills in a safe, controlled environment.
“I took one look at that village, and they described the school visits to me. I was so impressed, amazed and excited,” she said.
“On the spot, I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Schulist explained.
Fifteen years later, Schulist continues to volunteer her time at the village once a week.
Throughout the years, Schulist has volunteered in multiple spots throughout the village, but said she tends to enjoy the park area the most, where she gets to interact as a policeman with the kids.
“Since I’ve been volunteering for so many years, some of the kids come back for return visits. I get to see the progress they’ve made, and they remember me, and I love it!”
Schulist says she likes being able to create new experiences for the kids while finding ways to turn them into teaching moments. She recalls one experience where she taught a valuable lesson about speeding tickets.
“I try not to give tickets … just warnings and they learned,” Schulist explained.
But there was one boy who, she says, was speeding through the park even after she gave him warnings.
“This boy would look for me over his shoulder and then break the rules. I thought to myself, ‘I think I’m going to have to give my first ticket,’” Schulist said.
“I went over to him and said, ‘You know, you’ve had too many warnings, and so forth.’ And I gave him a ticket.”
The boy seemed happy and proud to get a ticket, she said. Schulist used this moment as a teaching opportunity, explaining how a ticket isn’t a good thing.
Recently, when the boy visited the village, Schulist said he came by the park and seemed to hide from her out of embarrassment.
“So, I went over to him and asked him if he would like to be my assistant. Suddenly, everything changed, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I do!’ And I found something he could be proud of,” she said.
Schulist saw him grow in maturity. On the very last day the boy was her assistant, he noticed his teacher goofing off. Schulist says the teacher is a fun guy who does silly things with his students.
“The boy came over to me and said, ‘I think the teacher deserves a ticket. I saw him breaking a rule for a while. It’s not safe.’ So, I went over and I gave the teacher a ticket.”
Being able to watch his growth and help him find something he was comfortable doing brought Schulist so much joy. Moments like that keep her coming back every week, and she encourages anyone who’s interested in the Friendship Circle to come and check it out.
“The main thing is that we get to make that difference every time we’re there. We get to do something special, and I’m happy to be part of it.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Friendship Circle and how you can volunteer, email Shayna at Shayna@friendshipcircle.org or call her at (248) 788-7878, ext. 207.
If you would like to nominate someone to be the next volunteer of the week, send a nomination with a short paragraph telling us why to email@example.com.