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2009 Top-Rated Nonprofit

The Friendship Circle

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Human Service Organizations, Human Services

Mission: Founded on the belief of V’Ahavta L’Reacha Kamocha (love your fellow as yourself), The Friendship Circle is dedicated to creating an inclusive and supportive Jewish community for special needs children, teen volunteers and their families.

Geographic areas served: The SF Bay Area

Programs: Provide friends and companions for children with special needs and to teach compassion and inclusion to children in a general educational environment. Teenage volunteers visit the children at home once a week. The child gains a special friend while the parents are given a much needed respite. The volunteers themselves become empowered and enriched as their own moral character grows through their service.

Community Stories

18 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

6

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

this is a dedicated group of warm and caring people who have developed an ideal program for children with special needs and their families. i have had the pleasure of "working" with them for several years and they have continued to grow and develop in the right direction. my sweet, darling, just turned 12 year old with autism has the BEST time at ALL the programs he attends. i am grateful for friendship circle!!!

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

When I came, there was an obvious organized way, and everyone was very nice. The volunteers constantly checked up on how I was doing with my buddy, and even offered us refreshments.They also provided great activities.

1

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

My daughter participated as a buddy/mentor to one of the many wonderful children that participate in the program. This was during her senior year in HS and it was one of best community service projects ever - she was engaged and felt like she really made a difference in someone's life. The Friendship Circle fills a void in our community - a chance to reach out to those young people whose voice is seldom heard. The relationship building and "friendship" mean so much to both parties, a sort of "circle" of endearment that is priceless - building memories that will last a lifetime. The selfless effort put forward by all concerned with the Friendship Circle should be recognized as a major asset to our community.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

i had the great privilege of being a winter camp volunteer buddy. my special needs buddy was a high functioning 6 yr old boy with violent tendencies. i did it because i felt that special needs children deserve fun and friendship just like anyone else. i didn't expect it to be as rewarding and enjoyable as it was. my buddy came in withdrawn and unwilling to communicate openly with me but after consistently reaching out to him through all the great programs, games and crafts, he began to open up to me. a couple days into it he wouldn't do anything without me near him. i saw this happening between many of the other buddies too. children that had never interacted with people other then their immediate family, let alone friends, were now laughing and playing with best friends. in addition we, as volunteers, always felt so special and appreciate it. the directors, Nechama and Ezzy shusterman always took the time to get to know each of us and make sure we were happy and ok. it turned us into a warm, happy, friendship circle family. we were able to reach out to the kids so much better because of the great support we got and in return the kids left camp different people. i still miss my buddy but unfortunately lost contact with him after leaving town for school. friendship circle really taught me the value of others and how every person, and every positive action, really helps.

1

General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

as my son noah (11) says, "friendship circle rocks!!" what a wonderful program and opportunity for children and families living with special needs...thank you doesn't cover it! a grateful parent, amy

Comments ( 1 )

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aschusterm 11/02/2009

It seems as if this was supposed to be a five star rating and the person missunderstood.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a part of Friendship Circle for two years now, and from it I have learned a lot not only about myself, but my buddy as well. It is so exciting to see how happy my buddy gets when ever I come over. Friendship Circle has been an amazing experience for me.

2

Client Served

Rating: 4

Very positive, loving and clearly all about helping the special needs children have fun in a Jewish learning environment. Unfortunately, my grandson (6) just didn't connect enough with the program, although he loved his teen buddy. It was a significant time commitment and interfered enough with his limited free family time that they decided not to continue but hopefully will try again next year.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have a unique perspective on the Friendship Circle (FC). Over the past 2-3 years my children have volunteered as "buddies" for the special needs children, introducing me to the incredible services the organization provides both to these kids and to the teens who serve them. It has been an invaluable experience for the teens to learn about people of uniquely different talents, doing something for someone else without anything more than the satisfaction of doing it. The support provided by the small FC staff has always been welcoming to one and all. I had a chance to seem them work when I volunteered to help out with their annual fundraising event, and was very impressed by what a small group could accomplish.

6

Volunteer

Rating: 5

My older daughter volunteered with the Friendship Circle for four years. She started with Winter Camp which she loved. It was a great experience for her. After that she did Friends at Home, visiting a special needs friend once/week. It was a special time for her, kept her grounded and appreciating what she has more. She learned to be a teacher and a mentor and how to understand her special friend. He loved her, always excited to see her. It has also been a tremendous support for his family who love to have her around. Now that she is in college, my younger daughter has taken over her buddy whom she visits every week. She has been trained by a professional at the Orientation/Training and is always trying to get her buddy to talk more and try new games etc. It is a great experience for both of them. His family is also getting continued support. My younger daughter is also part of Friendship Circle's President's Club, or Leadership Club which she loves. She helps plan activities for the teens and is in charge of keeping everyone up-to-date on Facebook. This has encouraged her to seek leadership positions at school. She loves volunteering for the Friendship Circle.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 4

Friendship Circle has really helped me understand life a little better. If you want to do it because it looks good on college applications, then don't do it at all. You need to have a passion for this, because I'm not going to lie, this is really hard to do. And if you are not in it 100%, then you are just letting down someone else. Friendship Circle taught me not to judge anyone, nobody is the same, and we are all born the way we are for a reason. I really loved this program, and i think that i am going to join again soon, because i miss making kids smile. I miss that feeling of seeing a child's face lighten up when they see you, because they know that you are going to give them a good time. I stopped going to Friendship Circle because of homework, and time management, but i really want to begin again. If you love helping people, if you love kids, if you just love knowing that you are giving, then you should really join this organization. This is not for everyone though. You have to be strong, but still be their friend. You learn to be better at this over time. Like, when i first joined, i had no idea what i was doing. I didn't know if i should tell the child to stop, or tell him "if you follow directions, then you get a present." But each child has something that helps, and if you communicate with the parents, then they can help you. It all takes time, patience, love, and effort, honestly. However, there are older people in this organization. And, even though they have a disability, i don't think that they want to be treated any differently. So giving older kids play-do, and telling them to play on the playground, might not be the best way. Treat them like you would want to be treated. I wouldn't want to be told that i need to play with these blocks, because i would be bored. And i think that some of these kids do get bored, because the activities are not showing everything that they are capable of.

2

Client Served

Rating: 5

Friendship Circle is based on the idea that special needs kids are helped by connecting with normal kids - and that the normal kids benefit too by recognizing that not everyone is like them. Matching them up benefits both. My child is a special needs kid who can relate to adults, but not normal kids because they don't want to bother with him. Friendship Circle gives him a time each week where he can look forward to a buddy visit when someone closer to his age will focus on him.

2

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

Friendship Circle is truly a gift to our community providing meaningful Jewish experiences for a group of children who are frequently forgotten by the organized Jewish institutions. The Talmud teaches us that each child brings a unique gift to the world. Friendship Circle brings this teaching into everyday life ensuring that every child has the opportunity to explore his or her Jewish identity regardless of their special needs. Friendship Circle also provides an opportunity for teens to work with special needs children and to learn the importance of helping those in need.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I can't say enough about how great the experience of participating as a volunteer for the friendship has been for my daughter. What started as a school project has turned into a deeper understanding of herself and how great it feels to give on oneself!

2

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

My daughter is in her second year participating in Friendship Circle. This experience has been fantastic for her because it gives her the opportunity to help others and appreciate how rewarding community service is. She is artistic and enjoys helping children with learning challenges create art for themselves.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

AWSOME. Very good organization and motifs. five star community service offer, very friendly people. Good place to volunteer highly recommended :)!

10

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

Friendship Circle is a fantastic organization in that it provides children with special needs and environment for growth, interaction and fun. However, my story is not about those served by this organization. Rather, I have seen tremendous growth in my own daughter, who is a volunteer with the organization. She has grown in her maturity, leadership skills and independence driven by her desire to help others. It truly is a rare organization where those offering assistance can grow as much as those receiving assistance. Friendship Circle is a classic win-win and clearly gives breath to Tikkun Olam in so many ways.

8

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Friendship Circle has definitely given me a much different kind of volunteering experience. They know exactly how to operate successfully, benefiting both the volunteers and the kids in a very positive way. Because of the Friendship Circle I am now a much more compassionate and tolerant person; I have also developed self esteem and character through the work I have done over the years. Friendship Circle is just one of those things where you get much more more out of what you put in. I will never forget my experiences with them. Thanks a lot

9

Volunteer

Rating: 5

My experience with Ezzy and Nechama Shusterman of the Friendship Circle in The Bay area has been phenomenal. Upon meeting these community leaders it is clear how dedicated they are to serving the special needs children and adults in the bay area. Their endless dedication to creating a jewish community for children and adults living with special needs is astounding. The special relationships formed through the friendship circle amazes me even more.I personally volunteered with an adult with special needs. We formed a bond and had fun together. We celebrated jewish holidays together and did activities that both she and I enjoyed. We read stories and played games. For an hour or so a week I believe I really was able to enhance my buddy's life with a bit of jewish light and friendship. My volunteer experience was limited compared to some of the other volunteers that are very involved with FC. I am very impressed by the local teens volunteering on afternoons and weekends to serve the children who need them most. Jewish children with various issues that need a friend. A dedicated team who puts their needs and their jewish background together to form a relationship filled with jewish culture, fun and stability. These children know that weekly , monthly , seasonally their will be events that are for them to enjoy. Where they feel valued and respected while having tons of fun in a jewish atmosphere. . I am constantly amazed at how much everyone chips in to creatively implement programming on limited resources for every school year , holiday and summer season. The Chabad emissaries, local teens and parents are incredibly supportive of this organization. This very personal dedication shows in so many ways when you meet someone involved in friendship circle , but, most importantly, it shows in their smiles when you mention it by name. The friendship circle is just that. A circle of friends who have a common goal. To bring joy to a jewish child.