The Friendship Circle Miami hosted its annual Walking 4 Friendship Walk-a-Thon on Sunday, Mar. 18, with a record number of over 1,000 participants. The walk took place around the Friendship Circle Miami headquarters at 8700 SW 112 St. in Kendall.
A total of $115,332 was raised that will help fund local programs aimed at enhancing social function, inclusion, and friendship in children with special needs.
The Friendship Circle empowers children and young adults with disabilities, including autism, to develop proficiencies in areas such as art, music, sports, and overall life skills. Each participant is paired with a typical teen volunteer who stays with them throughout the course of the program, helping to foster friendships and acceptance among all.
Top fundraising teams this year included Todd Ruderman and family who raised over $29,000; Joe Roisman and family who raised over $12,000, and Bob Josefsberg who raised over $10,000. The top teen volunteer fundraiser was Samantha Kaz who raised over $2,800.
Friendship Circle participant Inyaki Perez Iturbe accepted the top fundraising award on behalf of Mr. Ruderman.
“It is people like you who help ensure that children, teens and young adults like myself enjoy friendship and acceptance,” Perez proclaimed. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Friendship Circle rocks and you rock!”
The fun-filled event began with a warmup for the walk by yoga teacher and volunteer, Brandy, who had some assistance from Sebastian, the University of Miami’s Ibis mascot. The walk commenced shortly after all participants sang the Star-Spangled Banner while Sam Sax, the father of an alum of the Friendship Circle, flew his plane overhead.
The Bahamas Junkanoo Band, Sebastian and Miami Heat mascot Burnie accompanied all participants during the walk, keeping them motivated and on beat. Along the walk were different stations with fun activities.
Audrey Raska Phillips, mother to one of the Friendship Circle participants, noted on Facebook, “A calm came over my son. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and there we were, amidst so many stellar people, families, and volunteers. The Friendship Circle is a place where unexpected friendships flourish and no judgements are made, and that’s just, well, priceless.”
After the walk, participants were treated to an exciting carnival with activities such as a rock climbing wall, a four-station bungee, dual Zorb race track, a bounce house, and face painting. Walkers re-fueled up on hot dogs, burgers, soda, popcorn, cotton candy and more.
Performances included Kia Kidz, Coconut Grove Ballet, Danny Wheeler Band, LEAP and Friendship Circle’s very own band comprised of program participants.
Parents were able to access information on resources available in the community such as CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), Atlantis Academy, Coalition of Mental Health, First Steps Intervention, Kids Chat and other vendors.
One in every 68 children in the U.S. has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 30 percent increase from one in 88 merely two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children with ASD often have severe deficits in social skills and verbal communication, which can make social interactions challenging.
“At The Friendship Circle, part of our mission is to heighten the community’s awareness, sensitivity, and sense of responsibility to individuals with special needs,” said Nechama Harlig, program director.
Anyone who wishes to make an impact through a donation still can do so by visiting walking4friendship.com. For more information on the Friendship Circle programs or volunteer opportunities, call 305-234-5654 or visit friendshipcirclemiami.org.