By Deb Silverthorn
The Friendship Circle of Dallas, an affiliate of Chabad of North Texas, hopes to broaden its circle of friends and donors at its upcoming events; it plans to host an art and music event, 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 10, at Chase’s Place, as well as its annual Walk 4 Friendship and carnival, beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, at Flag Pole Hill in Dallas.
“We’re so happy to be able to host events in public, to bring people together and to serve our community in-person,” said Leah Dubrawsky, who leads Friendship Circle of Dallas with her husband, Rabbi Levi Dubrawsky, and with support of the organization’s advisor, Eileen Kreisler. “Our children are our future and all our kids — participants and volunteers — need to be together; they love being together.”
Established locally in 2016, Friendship Circle of Dallas is dedicated to helping children and young adults with special needs to become more fully integrated into the broader community. Since 1994, Friendship Circles have been created in more than 60 cities around the world.
“Friendship Circle provides my son with meaningful, incredibly and extremely important experiences and he just loves it,” said Kathy Kaulbach, mother of 14-year-old Nate. A child with Down’s syndrome, Nate is nonverbal and primarily communicates via his iPad. He loves social engagement and enjoys connecting to the Friendship Circle volunteers.
“The opportunities Leah creates for the kids are very special,” said Kaulbach. “It’s great to have activities to spend time with children without physical or cognitive disabilities, and the volunteers — they are so smart, so kind and always so enthusiastic.”
Nate is a student at Chase’s Place, and he’s looking forward to introducing his Friendship Circle volunteer friends to his classmates. Chase’s Place, in Richardson, has 17 students ages eight to 29 — some living with autism, some with Down’s syndrome and others with differing ambulatory and cognitive abilities.
“We’re excited for the Friendship Circle to visit and to come to our space where our students feel so comfortable,” said Heather Welker, Chase’s Place executive director. “It’s good for them to interact with peers and enjoy and be stimulated by them and, for the volunteers, it is a chance to experience a different educational environment than they are used to.”
Volunteers, in grades six to 12 and from throughout the community, can participate as often as they are available and earn service hours.
“I enjoy the time together with the kids because they are really so sweet and I learn a lot from being with them,” said 14-year-old volunteer Laurin Bernstein, a seventh grade student at Levine Academy. “It’s social and fun, but I find that by being with the kids I am learning what some of them go through in terms of communication and other issues and I try to change my interaction to support them.”
Bernstein said that her experiences with the children have allowed her to relate more closely with them.
“One girl was trying to tell me she wanted to wash her hands, but she just couldn’t get the words out — instead she rubbed her hands together,” said Bernstein. “Patience is something I use always but [working with the kids] is never a problem or hard, just really something so special to me, and I look forward to whatever we’re doing.”
The Friendship Circle Dallas has many opportunities for involvement in addition to its individual one-to-one setups. Its Mitzvah Volunteer Program allows preteens preparing to become recognized as adults in the Jewish community to participate in activities that support The Birthday Party Project, Rise School and Vogel Alcove. Dubrawsky and her team are also happy to help young volunteers support other organizations they are aware of that could be benefited.
Friendship Circle Dallas’ Kids4Kindness program has 12- and 13-year-old volunteers organizing events and also collecting items to support groups such as Cody’s Friends Rescue, for which blankets, collars, leashes, canned dog food and other animal-related items are collected. Another beneficiary is Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer, for which the group made buddy bags containing games, toiletries, crayons and coloring books for recently-diagnosed pediatric patients; the group also gathered items for the Jewish Family Service’s Food Pantry.
“Touching others is so important and to learn how to do that, and take that on, from a young age, I think will serve our volunteers for the rest of their lives,” said Dubrawsky. “For our participants, we can give no greater gift than an afternoon of laughter and creativity, of activity and connecting.”
For more details about volunteering, or to make a donation to Friendship Circle, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To register for, or donate to, the May 1 Walk 4 Friendship, visit Walk 4 FriendshipDallas.com.