The Friendship Circle’s unique formula partners teenage volunteers with children with special needs and through shared experiences, both are enriched. The experts agree, through the gift of friendship, teens are able to reach children with special needs in ways that most forms of therapy cannot.
“The relationships built are at a much deeper core level than between adults and children with special needs,” said Trevor Resnick, M.D., Chief of the Department of Neurology at Miami Children’s Hospital. “This is an important part of the therapeutic process for these children because it opens windows for further developmental progress that would otherwise not necessarily occur.”
Dr. Resnick, along with medical professionals from the University of Miami and the University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, therapists, local business leaders, volunteers and participant parents serve on The Friendship Circle Advisory Board to ensure that quality programs serve the needs of children with disabilities.
Individuals and organizations who support The Friendship Circle know that their contributions are making a difference in the lives of these special children who come from throughout the community and all walks of life. Their generous donations fund the amazing programs that keep The Friendship Circle going round. Children’s Circle, Teen Scene, Friends at Home, Sports Circle, Cooking Circle, Life Skills, Family Fun Days and Winter break and Summer Camps, are just a few of the programs fueled by supporters’ donations.
Amy Kalas, Board certified music therapist who teaches at United Cerebral Palsy and owns Wholesome Harmonies Music Therapies, teaches music therapy at Children’s Circle and Teen Scene on Sunday mornings. During her jam sessions, children learn how to work together and follow directions. Through song writing and music mnemonics, children learn concepts such as proper social greetings and how to be a good friend.
“I lead the group in musical activities to work on non-musical goals,” said Ms. Kalas.
“The teen volunteers motivate the children to participate. There’s lots of clapping and cheering for each other, and the children’s self-esteem is greatly enhanced.”
Not only do these programs help children with special needs develop life skills and greater independence, they provide their families with a much needed respite. There is no greater joy for these parents than to see their child becoming part of the community.
Michele and Paul Kaplan’s son Matthew has been a Friendship Circle participant for four years. “The Friendship Circle has been a central part of our family,” said Ms. Kaplan. “Since Matthew was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome at the age of two, his friends have been there every week, without fail, to be his friend. They have never judged him for being different. Through the volunteer teens’ dedication, patience, and love, they have taught our entire family that there will always be a place where Matthew will be accepted just as he is.”
For the teen volunteers, the program promotes tolerance and teaches the value of giving to others. The teens say that volunteering at The Friendship Circle is not just about earning community service hours – it is so much more. Leah Friend, a junior at Terra Environmental Research Institute, has been volunteering at The Friendship Circle for two years.
“The Friendship Circle has given my Sunday mornings a whole new meaning,” she said. “Watching my friend, Ethan, grow has truly shown me what The Friendship Circle means, and it has changed me more than I could have ever imagined.” The Friendship Circle touches lives beyond the child with special needs and the teens who share time together and become friends. Everyone, including generous supporters, benefit at The Friendship Circle.
“The Friendship Circle is a unique charity that focuses on social enrichment for children who ordinarily don’t get the opportunity to spend time with other teens,” said Tracey Berkowitz of Fairholme Foundation, a proud supporter of The Friendship Circle.
Heather Utset, Director of Development, encourages others to join the seamless circle of friendship. “We invite community leaders and medical professionals to visit our program and see how the social and recreational opportunities we provide to our Friendship Circle children positively impact their development,” she said. “We encourage individuals and organizations to join us in making a difference in the lives of children with special needs. We promise you will feel great knowing that your support is being used in such a powerful and amazing way, helping these wonderful children and their families.”
To become a supporter of The Friendship Circle, call 305-234-5654, ext. 11, go to www.friendshipcirclemiami.org, or visit 8700 SW 112 St.