Palmetto High School junior Carly Girnun is a longtime volunteer and president of Friendship Circle, the Kendall/Pinecrest Chabad program that pairs middle and high school students with special needs children. The program has both group sessions at the Chabad and home visits.
“I visit a boy with one of my friends,” says Girnun. “I started in the program when I was in the seventh grade, but I’ve been visiting his house since eighth grade. We try to go every other week and hang out with him.”
When she started visiting the boy, he was just eight years old; today, he is 11. The Friendship Circle program gives the special needs children the opportunity to have friends in their lives.
The volunteers not only visit the home and play with the kids, they also go to meetings once a month, help publicize the program and plan fundraisers.
“There are many different programs throughout the week,” Girnun says. “And several on Sunday mornings.”
The programs include the Children’s Circle and Teen Scene. Kids are eligible for Teen Scene when they reach 13 years old.
“I worked with the Children’s Circle during my first year,” Gunroom says. “Sometimes they’ll need me and I’ll come in for those. They’ll do some on breaks from school. We went to the zoo one day and another day we had a ‘fun day’ at Chabad.”
She began working with special needs children when she was in the seventh grade as part of her Bat Mitzvah project.
“I just fell in love with the program and wanted to keep on doing it,” she says. “I plan to continue working with it until I finish high school.”
Girnun also volunteers at Camp Jennie, a weekend sleep-away camp in Georgia for inner city kids. The camp is sponsored by the Temple Youth Organization.
“This will be my third year, it’s a program you do starting when you are in the ninth grade,” she says. “You try to raise money. Going to the camp is their reward for doing well in school. They do a minisleep away camp.”
This year, Girnun will be a senior counselor and she will be matched with second and third grade children who come from the inner city.
“It’s free for them as long as they do well in school,” she says. “They bring what they have, but many don’t have much. We bring donated items, like bathing suits.”
Teens who want to be involved have to apply and they raise money in order to participate.
The cost per child is about $500 and the teens work to raise the funds for all of them.
At Palmetto, Girnun is a student council treasurer, a post she shares with another student.
Her duties include collecting money for activities that have fees.
“Anything that Student Activities is in charge of requires us to count the money,” she says.
Girnun’s activities also include dance and she has been on the Variations dance team since her freshman year. The team performs at pep rallies and numerous other school events. She is also a member of the Health Information Project and is one of the upper classmen who visit freshman classrooms eight times a year to teach the younger students about health – anything from nutrition and drug use to obesity. She has been trained to answer questions on a wide range of topics.
Girnun plans to major in child psychology when she enters college.
“I have been interested in child psychology for quite a while,” she says. “I want to help people.”
— By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld