By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
The lanes and scene will be set for strikes all around when Dallas’ Friendship Circle hosts its first Chanukah Bowl, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Bowlmor in Dallas.
“The holiday of light and miracles is coming and each and every one of us is a miracle with a light that glows. Through Friendship Circle, those lights are even brighter,” said Leah Dubrawsky, Dallas Friendship Circle director. “Our programs allow parents to leave their children for two or two-and-a-half hours, and they know they are in good, loving and caring hands.”
The global organization known as Friendship Circle was founded in 1994. It has a mission to enrich the lives of all participants through mutually advantageous interactions and creating lasting friendships, which consequently strengthen both the Jewish and greater communities. There are now more than 80 groups in 60 cities around the world, allowing children and young adults with special needs to enjoy the company of teenage and young adult volunteers in a full range of social activities.
The Dallas chapter welcomes participants ages 5-18 and buddy volunteers from eighth grade through high school. Dubrawsky, who was a Friendship Circle volunteer in her hometown of Pittsburgh and a friend to a developmentally delayed young girl in their childhood, is married to Rabbi Levi Dubrawsky and is the mother of four.
“I’m so happy with the growth of the Friendship Circle here, and excited as we continue to move north into Plano and Frisco and to welcome and gather the whole of the community as best as we can,” said Dubrawsky, planning activities throughout the area.
Since bringing the Friendship Circle full circle and revitalizing it within Dallas’ community, there have been Shabbat dinners, a day at the zoo, museums and more. The recent addition of a monthly Sunday Circle, with activities, snacks, crafts and sports, comes with the career and lifetime of experience, advisement, and calm of Friendship Circle Board of Directors Chair Eileen Kreisler.
The group, which has asked musical therapists to bring activities, science and Torah-related crafts fun, celebrated the High Holiday season by making edible sukkahs and playing soccer. During the first weekend in November, they participated in a drum circle and were led by Brook Cheatham in an afternoon of yoga relaxation.
On Oct. 29, the group reached for the stars — almost — as they partnered with Challenge Air to give the children with disabilities the gift of flight.
“We take kids up and let them fly the plane. Kids don’t fly planes? Well, heck, they do, and we let them know if they can do something they never thought they could, then surely they can do anything,” said Sonny Friedman, the organization’s first president, who remains on the organization’s board of directors. Challenge Air pilots volunteered time, giving 17 children and young adults with special needs half-hour plane rides at Addison Airport. These lucky ones were among the 35,000 Challenge Air has flown in the past 25 years.
In addition to the monthly programs and other special occasions, there are weekend visits from the volunteers to their friends during which they participate in hobbies, art, board games and more.
Yavneh Academy sophomore Jamie Perkins, a buddy to 12-year-old young man “B,” looks forward to every weekend.
“It makes him happy when we’re together and it makes me happy, too. It’s a good part of the week for both of us and I know that whatever we do, we’re going to have fun doing it together,” said Perkins, who had been involved in many occasional projects, and who was looking for a more constant opportunity to make a difference.
Not only the friends enjoy weekend visits, but the parents, too. It’s an opportunity to step back and let their children cultivate their own relationships.
“It’s a great time for him to exchange with ‘typical’ teens and he loves the conversation and just being a teenager,” said Angela Weber, whose 14-year-old son, Shmuli, looks forward to his visits from Jeff Harberg and Jake Middleman every other weekend. “I know kids need to earn service hours but there are lots easier ways to do it than this and so it’s obvious these kids have heart and that they want to share that, and their time with my son, is humbling and beautiful.”
Sometimes Shmuli and his friends play games, kick around a soccer ball, and sometimes they go out for ice cream.
“He feels mature and just like what a 14-year-old should be feeling when he’s around them,” Weber said. “The boys laugh together and they just ‘be.’ It’s awe-inspiring to have Leah, who is incredible, and her volunteers be so good with, to, and for our kids all the time. It’s really very special.”
For more information about Friendship Circle and other events, visit the Friendship Circle of Dallas Facebook page or FriendshipDallas.org. To volunteer as a buddy, or to RSVP for the Dec. 17 Chanukah Bowl, call 972-998-1970.