Author Archives: Robin Schwartz

dino on wheels

Dylan Yates’ ‘DINOmite’ Artwork Adorns Royal Oak Parking Meters

dinos meter
For a humble, quiet-mannered artist who isn’t fond of the spotlight, Dylan Yates and his dinosaur-themed artwork sure are getting lots of attention.

And the City of Royal is grateful for that.

Dylan, an artist since the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio opened in 2016, was commissioned by his hometown to create vibrant-colored wraps for the city’s parking meters.

“A few years ago, the city added bike hitches to the meters in downtown Royal Oak and no one noticed them,” says Judy Davids, community engagement specialist for the City of Royal Oak. “We knew we had to make the meters pop so we came up with the idea to wrap them in art.”

A former editor of Royal Oak Patch, Davids was familiar with Dylan’s artwork and knew he’d be perfect for the job.

“I love his use of color and his playful images,” she added.

After Davids reached out to the Yates family – and they got the green light for funding from the city’s art commission – the project got rolling.

Dinos on Wheels

dino on wheels
Deciding on a design for his drawing wasn’t easy for the 24-year-old, says his mom, Donna Yates.

At first, Dylan – who has been enthralled with dinosaurs since childhood – wasn’t convinced his muse would pair well with the cycling theme.

“Dinosaurs don’t work with bicycles,” Dylan told his mom.

But with a little coaching – and lots of encouragement — from Soul Studio creative director Adam LaVoy, he soon changed his mind.

A Google search turned up images that helped Dylan formulate his own vision.

“Showing instead of telling makes all the difference in the world,” says Adam.
Then, the young artist quickly went to work.

Dylan drew 10 to 12 different dinosaur images, each one in a matter of minutes.

Working side by side, the pair scanned Dylan’s drawings into the computer and used graphic design software to select colors and arrange patterns. The result: bold, brightly colored dinos riding a variety of bicycles and unicycles set against a beautiful turquoise background with subtle images of prehistoric leaves.

Dylan’s design was a hit, his mom says, and the wraps caught the eyes of passers-by within minutes of being permanently affixed to 10 city meters last spring.

Artistic Dynamo

The project – and Friendship Circle — have helped her shy, unassuming son gain the confidence he needs to take his artistic gift to the next level. Up until he joined the Soul Studio, Dylan hadn’t really fancied himself an artist – even though his emerging talent indicated otherwise.

“It’s been demonstrated throughout his life that art was his strength,” says Donna, adding that he studied visual imaging and fine art in high school.

“He used to say he was a paleontologist who does art,” says Donna. But today he proudly exclaims: “I’m an artist!
“He owns it now.”

And, she says, the Soul Studio has given Dylan so much more than a chance to explore his gift.

“He’s gained confidence, self-esteem, social skills, peer interaction and is building relationships,” she says. “It’s art – but
it’s all those other things that we all need.”

You can spot Dylan’s Dinos near the following Royal Oak landmarks: Beruit Palace, Blaze, Ewe Nique Knits, Hermann’s, Burn Rubber, Noodles, AE Salon, Rock on Third, City Hall and Andiamo restaurant.

Story by Holly Griffin

Soul Stories: Sam Morris “Sweet (Hugs) Soul”

Nothing feeds the soul quite like a job well done – and Sam Morris gets his spiritual nourishment at the Soul Café and Soul Studio. Sam’s line of Sweet Hugs artwork, clothing and products has become very popular in recent months. But, he’s also well known for his work at Soul Café.

“Working in the café is wonderful,” says Sam, a busser from West Bloomfield who has learned as much about himself and his abilities on the job as he has about restaurant work itself.
There, he says, “I feel my soul.”

From greeting customers and serving water, to ensuring every glass sparkles and each piece of silverware is in its proper place, the 25-year-old with an infectious smile puts his all into every task. And his cheerful demeanor warms the hearts of everyone he encounters.

“Sam is a very joyous human being,” says his mother, Carolyn Sklarchyk. “He has always been a very social … person. He loves greeting everybody that comes in. Everybody’s happy to see him and he feels a part of the whole, a part of something bigger.”

Sam beams with pride as he describes the skills he’s gained over the past year. Jobs that once overwhelmed the young man who has autism, now uplift him.

“I used to feel it’s too much for me,” he says, recalling the days when his training first began and his list of responsibilities seemed insurmountable.

But an incredible sense of self-awareness coupled with strategies he’s learned turned self-doubt into pride and frustration into gratitude.

“(I’m) unbelievably grateful … knowing how much my brain has handled things,” says Sam, who is quick to point out that his autism “makes me smart.”

So smart, in fact, he’s developed methods for coping with the pressure that comes with the rigors of restaurant life – making lists, setting priorities and pacing himself, just to name a few.

“He’s outstanding … (and) very smart,” says Johnnie Johnson, property manager for the Soul Café. “He listens. Whatever you show him, he’ll knock it out with no problem.”

While the Soul Cafe job is relatively new for Sam, his relationship with Friendship Circle isn’t. Sam has grown up with the organization, having participated in its programs since the nonprofit’s inception in 1994.

“They’ve followed him throughout his entire life,” his mother says. “It’s more than even just a sense of belonging. He knows that he is loved.”

Today, Sam’s involvement with Friendship Circle extends beyond the Soul Café. He spends quite a bit of time in the Soul Studio, doing ceramics in the morning and painting in the afternoon.

The studio has “given him a way to communicate emotionally … through painting,” Carolyn says.

And his artistic expression resonates with people. A chair he made – with an image of two people embracing on the front and a rendering of a heart on the back — auctioned for $14,000 during an event to raise funds for the Soul Studio.

Sam was ecstatic — and proud he created something that brings joy to others. But it’s his job at the Soul Cafe, he says, that feeds his desire to give back.

“They treat me well and I know what I’m doing with my job,” he says. “I’ve gotten very good.”

Wings check

Score!! Detroit Red Wings Visit Dresner Foundation Soul Studio

Soul Studio artist Adam Egrin arrived early.

The 23-year-old hockey fan from Southfield could hardly wait for three Detroit Red Wings to arrive Wednesday for a whirlwind tour of the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio, that included breakfast with artists, a hands-on art project and the presentation of a $3,500 donation to the Friendship Circle.

The visit started off in the center’s Soul Café, where Adam and two other artists – Jordan Hartz, 26, of Grand Rapids and Nick Gammisshia, 26, of Shelby Township – dined with Wings defensemen Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen and forward Anthony Mantha. As the group savored Soul Café fare, the artists showed off their work — and, of course, talked hockey.

“My favorite thing to do is scream at the goalie,” Adam told the Wings, before showing off his latest piece of artwork – Rock-Tart, a fully functional guitar bedecked with tons of tiny beads.

Friendship Circle director Bassie Shemtov held up Jordan’s India ink portrait of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, for the table to see.

“Rebbe is the one who taught us about a soul,” she explained.

Before heading to the studio, the Wings players hopped behind the café counter for an up-close view of the baristas hard at work. David Kole, 23, a barista-in-training from West Bloomfield, whipped up come coffee for the players. To show their appreciation for his superb service, the Wings gave David an autographed flag, which he held up proudly for all to see.

The highlight of the tour came when Sproul, Mantha and Jensen entered the studio.

There, they were greeted by artist Mackenzie (Macko) Matlen, who handed the men a Red Wings pillow she made by hand.

“I made it for them yesterday,” Macko said, adding that while she likes all the Wings players, defenseman Danny DeKeyser is her favorite.

“I’m a big fan,” she said with a grin that lit up the room.

The players went from station to station, talking with the studio volunteers and the artists who were busy crafting their latest projects, before stopping at a table where artist Jordan was waiting to put these players to work. After demonstrating his ink artwork, each player was given a piece of paper, a sponge and some ink. They put ink to paper and signed each piece, to which Jordan will add his illustrative vision.

Once the tour ended, the group gathered in the gallery where the players presented Shemtov with a Red Wings jersey, emblazoned with the words Friendship Circle. The Red Wings organization and ITC presented Shemtov with a ceremonial check for $3,500, which Friendship Circle says will be used to buy new hockey equipment and other gear for the Meer Center activity wing.

Surrounded by an array of awe-inspiring art, the Wings were visibly moved.

“It’s eye-opening,” Mantha said of the artists’ amazing work. “They do a great job. I could never do any of these things on the wall.”

JOIN US this Thurs., September 14 from 6-8pm for our newest exhibition, In a Groove. Our address is: 5586 Drake Rd, West Bloomfield, MI 48322

In a Groove: Our Newest Exhibition

Join us! This Thursday, Sept. 14 from 6-8 p.m.

Groove is the art.

And art from the heart is exactly what you’ll find at the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio’s fall exhibition.

The free event at Soul Studio – located at the Farber Center, 5586 Drake Road in West Bloomfield – will spotlight captivating pieces created by the studio’s artists, who’ve been hard at work all summer, channeling their creative vision into beautiful artwork.

From large-scale abstract paintings to dinosaur-covered 3D landscapes, the artwork on display will delight the senses and nourish the soul.

The studio is a creative haven for about 20 artists with special needs who explore a variety of mediums, honing their skills and discovering new ones. They design, create and sell their works of art in our Soul Gallery, and earn commission on the pieces they sell. Learn more about these creative souls here.

To see what their groovy artistry is all about, join us Thursday, Sept. 14 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Art will be available for purchase (some examples are featured on this page!)

Register here for In a Groove: Soul Studio Fall Exhibition.

Pearlman Family

Power Walkers: The Pearlman family – Team Dani P.

They walk for love. They walk for hope. They walk for friendship.

They are Friendship Circle’s Power Walkers.

While scores of generous supporters come together for the annual Walk4Friendship, there are some
families that walk year after year – people who go the extra mile to support an organization that has
changed countless lives through its innovative programs.

These Power Walkers aren’t celebrities or superstars. They are ordinary people who are doing
extraordinary work to help an organization near and dear to their hearts.

Here are their stories:

Power Walkers: The Pearlman family – Team Dani P.

For the Pearlman family of Huntington Woods, the support of Friendship Circle has been nothing short of magical.

And it’s that magic that moves them – and those they love and lean on – to participate in the Walk4Friendship year after year.

In fact, the Pearlman family hasn’t missed a one, says Debbie Pearlman, a member of the Friendship Circle Board of Directors.

After their daughter Dani was diagnosed with autism at age 3, Debbie and her husband, Joel, turned to Friendship Circle for strength and support.

Now 17, Dani participated in the Friendship Circle program before it even had a home of its own, Debbie says. “We found them to be an incredible source of support and friendship, not just for Dani, but for our whole family.”

Dani has taken part in many Friendship Circle programs over the years, but one moment stands out as the most meaningful, her mom says.

A Friendship Circle family trip to Mackinac Island had been planned around the time of Dani’s bat mitzvah. When the Pearlmans decided to go, the Friendship Circle arranged for a special ceremony to take place during the trip with Rabbi Yarden Blumstein officiating.

“It was the moment we realized the true magic of Friendship Circle,” Debbie says.

And so the Pearlmans – who are also parents to daughter Alex, 14, and son Charlie, 9 – move heaven and earth to give back in any way they can.

“Whatever Bassie asks me to do, I am front and center,” she says, gratefully.

With the support of friends and family who know “just how much Friendship Circle means to us,” Debbie says, they raised roughly $25,000 for last year’s walk and are on track to do it again.

Written by Holly Terpstra

Lubin Family

Power Walkers: The Lubin family – MJS Packaging

They walk for love. They walk for hope. They walk for friendship.

They are Friendship Circle’s Power Walkers.

While scores of generous supporters come together for the annual Walk4Friendship, there are some families that walk year after year and go the extra mile to support our organization.

These Power Walkers aren’t celebrities or superstars. They are ordinary people who are doing extraordinary work to help an organization near and dear to their hearts.

Here are their stories:

The Lubin family – MJS Packaging

For David Lubin of Farmington Hills, it is the passion and purpose of Friendship Circle for which he walks. His inspiration lies not just in the needs of one – but rather in the needs of all who are helped by the organization’s programs and services.

“I do not have any family members with special needs,” says David, president of MJS Packaging, a Livonia-based product packaging company with offices across the United States. But, he says, he appreciates the special role Friendship Circle plays in the community.

“I love the work they do,” says David, who added that he couldn’t help but get engaged – and encourage others to do the same.
And that has been the case from the very beginning.

David and his wife, Stephane, first became acquainted with Friendship Circle through David’s step-brother Andy Jacobs, an ardent early supporter of the group and currently a member of its board’s executive committee.

“It’s a cause I am devoted to,” says David, who is also on the Friendship Circle board.

David and his wife have participated in the Walk4Friendship since its inception, and they will walk again this year, too.
But they don’t walk alone.

As has been the case for many years, Team MJS Packaging will include many of David’s coworkers. And those who don’t walk, he says, contribute to the cause. With offices around the country, those contributions add up quickly, he says. Last year, David’s team raised roughly $20,000.

And he couldn’t be more determined to do it again.

“What keeps me walking and wanting to support Friendship Circle is that I see them making a difference in the lives of people with special needs as well as in the lives of their many volunteers,” he says. “Friendship Circle continues to search for ways to expand its programming in order to broaden and maximize the support for those with special needs.”

Written by Holly Terpstra

Menucks

Power Walkers: The Menuck family – The bELIevers

They walk for love. They walk for hope. They walk for friendship.

They are Friendship Circle’s Power Walkers.

While scores of generous supporters come together for the annual Walk4Friendship, there are some families that walk year after year and go the extra mile to support our organization.

These Power Walkers aren’t celebrities or superstars. They are ordinary people who are doing extraordinary work to help an organization near and dear to their hearts.

Here are their stories:

The Menuck family – The bELIevers

When Lisa Menuck first began participating in the Walk4Friendship many years ago, she knew her efforts made a difference. What she didn’t know then was just how much those efforts would hit home someday.

Lisa and her husband, Mark, first participated many years ago after Lisa was introduced to Bassie Shemtov through her sister-in-law Jill Menuck, who knew Bassie when the Shemtovs were running Friendship Circle out of their basement.

But it wasn’t until after their youngest son, Eli, came along that the walk truly became a family affair, Lisa says.

At just 3 months old, Eli underwent heart surgery. As he grew, developmental delays became apparent and the now-9-year-old boy was diagnosed with autism.

“The Friendship Circle staff sees past the disabilities of all the children and are focused on what they can do and who they are on the inside,” says Lisa, who is also mom to Harrison, 18, and Jessica, 17. “Eli has made friends, attends Hebrew school, is on sports teams and goes to summer camp — things that may otherwise not be offered to him.”

How does one give back to an organization that has given so much to people you love? You walk and walk and walk some more, which is exactly what the Menuck family of Birmingham has done.

Each year since 2013, the family has marched as a team, first as the Menuck Marchers and later as the bELIevers. This will be the fourth year the team will bear that name.

While some faces on the team have changed over the years, there are those who have been there every step of the way, says Lisa. Her brother-in-law’s family, also of Birmingham, has been among their biggest supporters. They include Mark’s twin brother, Craig Menuck, and his wife, Jill, and their three children: Jamie, 19, Miles, 18, and Casie, 14.

And while this year the team dynamic will be a little different with the older Menuck children from both families heading off to college, the family’s resolve to give back remains as strong as ever.

“Friendship Circle has been life changing for my family,” Lisa says. “We have gained so much love and support and met so many incredible people. Having a child with special needs … can be especially lonely and difficult emotionally. The support of an amazing organization behind us makes us feel we are not alone.”

Written by Holly Terpstra

Walk for Friendship

5 things to know about the 2017 Walk4Friendship

The 11th annual Walk4Friendship is set for Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. Here are 5 things you need to know about this year’s can’t-miss Friendship Circle fundraiser:

1. THERE’S A NEW ROUTE
This year’s route is roughly 1.4 miles and will start at the West Bloomfield Township hall, 4550 Walnut Lake Road, and end at Friendship Circle’s Farber Center, 5586 Drake Road.

Registration and T-shirt pickup will begin at 10 a.m., and the opening ceremony will start at 11:30 a.m. The walk will kick off at 11:45. The festivities at the finish line will run from noon-3 p.m.

2. PLENTY OF PARKING
All parking will be at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield. We strongly suggest you arrive at the Temple Israel parking lot by 10:30 a.m. to ensure you don’t miss the opening ceremony.

Wheelchair accessible parking: Wheelchair accessible parking will be in a designated area of the Temple Israel parking lot. Please let the parking attendant know that you need wheelchair accessible parking when you arrive. Wheelchair accessible shuttles will transport you to the opening ceremony and back to your car once the walk is over. Shuttles will leave every 30 minutes, at the top and bottom of every hour.

3. CONVENIENT SHUTTLES WILL BE AVAILABLE
To the opening ceremony: Shuttles will transport participants from Temple Israel to the township hall starting at 10 a.m. and will run regularly until the walk starts (approximately 11:45 a.m.).

To the Farber Center: Fifteen minutes after the walk begins, supporters who prefer not to walk can take a shuttle directly to the Farber Center, where they can cheer on family and friends!

NOTE: All those who do not require wheelchair accessible accommodations will need to walk back to the Temple Israel lot when the event concludes. There will be no shuttles for walkers. It’s a five-minute walk from the Farber Center.

4. THERE’LL BE UNFORGETTABLE ENTERTAINMENT
The Walk4Friendship promises plenty of fun for the entire family. Entertainment offerings include:

  • The SkyRiders! Trampoline Show featuring death-defying stunts by Guinness Book of World Records holder and three-time national trampoline champion Ken Kovach and his team.
  • The Real McCoy Show, an interactive, all-ages variety performance by Brent McCoy. The show combines Brent’s best circus stunts, lightning-quick wit and lots of audience involvement for a rollicking comic experience.
  • A 28-foot-high zipline that’s sure to give you the ride of your life!
  • A Segway obstacle course to test your skills.
  • The Fuse 45 Ski & Rowing Challenge, where the participant with the best record wins a prize.
  • Bounce houses and an inflatable sports arena featuring the most popular games.
  • Mini NASCAR and monster truck racing courses.
  • A craft workshop sponsored by Home Depot.

5. COME HUNGRY!
There will be festival flavors galore, including:

  • Fresh popcorn, snow cones and cotton candy from the famous Detroit Popcorn Co.
  • Hot dogs with choice of toppings, coleslaw, vegetarian chili and watermelon from Epic Kosher.

Don’t miss out! Register today!

UMatter

Generous 5-Year Grant Helps UMatter Grow

An extraordinary gift will help make a profound difference in the lives of teens across metro Detroit.

The Friendship Circle’s UMatter teen program received a five-year grant from the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based nonprofit that works throughout the country to raise awareness about the diagnosis and treatment of social anxiety disorders.

Nearly 40 people gathered for a celebratory brunch Sunday at Friendship House, where a plaque commemorating the new partnership was unveiled.

This generous gift to UMatter is symbolic of the groups’ shared mission to give voice – and hope – to people who are struggling in isolation, says Rabbi Yarden Blumstein, head of teen engagement for The Friendship Circle.

“I’m really excited about it,” Blumstein says. “It’s a wonderful gift and opportunity.”

Embracing Beautiful Souls

Before introducing UMatter and Kukes Foundation representatives during the ceremony, Friendship Circle founder Rabbi Levi Shemtov shared his thoughts about UMatter and its vital purpose in the teen community. He went on to speak to the community at large. To all those out there who are suffering from mental illness or other isolating circumstances, he said:

“Each one of you has a beautiful soul. We need you to have that message, hold that message, keep that message and breathe that message.”

Jeff Kukes – the father of the foundation’s namesake, Andrew Kukes – told the crowd just how much the UMatter partnership means to the Kukes family – which established the foundation in the wake of Andrew’s death with the hope of reaching others who live in the shadow of social anxiety.

“Our Andy started having problems in high school so I think this program is really essential for high school kids,” Kukes said of UMatter. “Andy’s been gone for over eight years now and the wounds are still raw. Every morning when I wake up, it doesn’t go away.”

He added that Andy would have been happy about the foundation’s partnership with UMatter.

“He was the kind of guy that wanted to help other people,” Kukes said. “He would be proud.”

Tackling Tough Subjects

The 10-member UMatter board seeks to shed light on the crises many teens face – often in silence. From addiction and mental illness to suicide prevention, UMatter tackles the tough subjects through community events and UMatter Week – a teen empowerment program at area schools that features teacher TED talks, essay contests, hallway decorations, training to help teens identify peers in crisis and more.

UMatter launched two years ago but has gained significant traction in the past year, Blumstein says. And the Kukes Foundation grant will help the teens bring to fruition their growing list of goals.

Efforts to achieve those goals are already under way, he says, including the creation of a UMatter website and the expansion of UMatter Week, tentatively set for Nov. 6-10. The program launched last year at West Bloomfield High School and is set to expand to six metro Detroit schools this year, with the goal of recruiting 10 schools.

The plans don’t stop there, says Nicole Kahan, 17, a longtime volunteer at Friendship Circle and UMatter board president.

The board’s visionary members have also talked about creating weekend workshops for teens, a helpline app for kids in crisis, support groups and a blog for teens to express their feelings about life – both the good and the bad.

“We want to impact at least one person,” says Kahan, who attends Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield. “And connect with teens as individuals because each teen is different and their experiences are different.”

The Kukes Foundation grant will allow the board to reach more kids who desperately need a lifeline, Kahan adds.

“There was a lot we wanted to do but we didn’t have the money,” she says. “Now, we can make a bigger impact on the community.

“I think we have a really good base and a lot to work with.”

And there are so many teens out there who just need to be heard and reassured that they do matter as they encounter challenges – both the big and the small.

“We also want to help teens who need a little extra support when school is too hard or when friends are a little too annoying,” Kahan says. “We want them to know they have someplace to turn.”

Click HERE to learn more about UMatter or to get involved. 

Cover Photo: Scott Wasserman Gallery Photos: Alex Scharg

‘Horsing Around’ at Friendship Circle Day Camp

Every Monday this summer, a trailer rumbled up the driveway of our West Bloomfield campus, delivering some tried and true special friends to Friendship Circle Day Camp. Peanut and Bailey, two tame and tolerant horses, joined us each week to provide our students with a unique experience.

“We have a couple of kids who spent the first three Mondays working up the courage to get on the horse. When they did, they were pretty proud of themselves,” says Catie Quinn, Friendship Circle’s camp director and program manager. “It helps some of our children get over their fear with animals. It helps them build confidence; it’s such a great feeling to be up high on a horse and to work with an animal.”

The horses come to Friendship Circle courtesy of Sandy Simmons, a private horse owner who brings along feedbags, hay, water and a practice saddle for the kids who need it.

The students get to brush and pet the horses and ride them along the wooded access trail on our property, with help from six to eight volunteers. Each ride lasts about 20 – 30 minutes.

Jaden, 10, and Cameron, 9, are two of our most confident and enthusiastic riders.

“They just love the horses and they get super excited about it,” says Quinn.

Research shows that riding horses can bring cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits to people with special needs. Scientific research continues to expand our knowledge of equine sentience — their extraordinary abilities of perception, cogntion, memory and even emotions, notes the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.

Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy because they have the ability to respond immediately and provide feedback to the rider’s actions, and they can mirror the rider’s emotions, according to the website Equestrian Therapy.

This is the third summer we’ve offered horseback riding at our camp, which serves 23 children ages 5 – 13. We are grateful to Sandy for bringing Peanut and Bailey to camp each week, and we know it meant a lot to our kids.