By Deb Silverthorn
The Friendship Circle of Dallas invites the community to walk the walk, of the talk they talk, beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 19. The event, the first Walk4Friendship, is a two-kilometer walk launching at Flagpole Hill, 8100 Doran Circle, near White Rock Lake.
After the walk will be a carnival that is open to the public, at no charge. Included will be bounce houses, crafts, a bubble truck, a petting zoo, a magician, a face-painting artist, a photo booth and more. Kosher food and drinks will be available for sale.
“This is about creating friendship and support, not at all about a physical race,” said Leah Dubrawsky, director of the Dallas Friendship Circle, an organization that pairs individuals with those who have special needs. “Everyone around us is a friend, and we’re honored to be able to provide events and programming to help build relationships, share creativity and kindness, and bring people together to share in wonderful experiences.”
Friendship Circle, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, was founded in 1994 and is run by the Chabad movement. The organization encompasses 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. Friendship Circle enriches the lives of all participants through mutually advantageous interactions, creating lasting friendships, strengthening both the Jewish and greater communities.
The Dallas chapter welcomes participants ages 5-18 and buddy volunteers from eighth grade through high school. The group hosts a winter camp, sports, science and Torah-related crafts fun, Shabbat and holiday-related programming, yoga, drum circles and field trips to locations throughout the community. A Sunday Circle group meets twice monthly, and some participants buddy up and visit more regularly.
“When I first met with Leah I was moved by her passion and dedication to expanding the Friendship Circle. The concept of my son connecting typical teens with special needs kids on a regular basis, really resonated with me,” said Cynthia Christnagel, the mother of 12-year-old Miles, who has cerebral palsy. “Our son is wheelchair-bound and non-verbal, and because of his disabilities, he doesn’t have many opportunities to build relationships with his typical peers. Friendship Circle offers Miles a warm and wonderful group of friends with diverse abilities.”
Attending Friendship Circle events for a little over a year, Miles seldom misses a Sunday Circle and he also attended winter camp. He has formed special friendships with typical teens, who engage him and take the time to connect with him.
“Friendship Circle’s impact on the community cannot be underestimated and seeing the bonds between kids with special needs and those without, is truly heartwarming,” Christnagel said. “It gives me faith in future generations, and the power of inclusion.”
Friendship Circle’s “I-Volunteer” program partners with Intown Chabad in Dallas’ Uptown area to create volunteer and social occasions for those of all abilities. The group made shaloch manot for Holocaust survivors, had a paint night, and hosted an evening of pizza and karaoke.
Additionally, the group hosts mom’s night out events, along with Teens on the Town, offering age-appropriate events.
“Friendship Circle allows me the opportunity to help amazing Jewish kids in our community and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Tom Oster. As of press time, Oster was the walk-a-thon’s leading fundraiser, having raised $2,022.
A 15-year-old sophomore at Yavneh Academy of Dallas, Oster first registered to volunteer with Friendship Circle Dallas after his bar mitzvah. Every Sunday, with classmate and volunteer Elisha Klein, Oster visits his buddy. Sometimes they share time at home, other times they’ll go out.
“I’m excited for the walk because it is a way for me to get my family and friends involved in helping the community,” Oster said. “With relatively little effort, everyone can make a change in people’s life. It becomes part of each of us and we can actually enjoy the time, and make an impact, all at once.”
To date, $25,646 has been pledged to Walk4Friendship participants. The funds support community members with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other emotional, physical and cognitive challenges. Donations from the event, as well as sponsors such as CD Wealth Management, Diamonds Direct and the Texas Jewish Post, allow Friendship Circle programs to be offered free or at a limited cost.
“In these times, in all times, it’s important that our community be friendlier and welcoming and open-hearted to all of our members. We’ve seen both volunteers and our friends come out of their shell, communicating and participating in ways they haven’t before,” Dubrawsky said. “Friendship Circle allows anyone who wishes to get involved in a warm, caring program.”
To register or to make a donation, visit walk4friendshipdallas.rallybound.org. For general Friendship Circle Dallas information, go to friendshipdallas.org.