Author Archives: Robin Schwartz

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


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


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.

Meet Soul Studio Artist: Felicia Bowers

Where there is a will, there is a way – and Felicia Bowers’ artistic will could not be stronger.
Unable to paint by hand, the 26-year-old from West Bloomfield uses her foot instead – her right foot to be exact.

“I am an artist,” says Felicia, who has cerebral palsy and communicates through an eye-controlled speech-generating computer. “I enjoy painting and … showing people other ways to do art because I do it with my eyes and my foot.”

Using a special foot brace, Felicia wraps her paint-covered toes around the brush and brings color to her canvas with both passion and purpose.

Click on the video below to watch her story:

But painting isn’t her only love.

Felicia embraces a variety of mediums for her artwork. Whether she’s weaving a fabric heart as big and bold and beautiful as that of its creator or painstakingly affixing tiny pieces of paper to a paper-mache car sculpture, Felicia applies the same dedicated focus to everything she touches. Oftentimes, she designs her projects first on a computer, as she did with her multidimensional masterpiece depicting a wolf howling in the moonlight.

Soul Studio “has opened doors for Felicia,” says her mother, Tina Bowers. “Since she’s been here, it’s amazing the things she’s been doing with her feet and her hands and her arms and her eyes. … I didn’t know she had it in her.

“It’s a lot of work for her but she loves it.”

Although cerebral palsy greatly reduced Felicia’s muscle control, it could not diminish her determination.

Diagnosed with the movement disorder at just 5 months old, Felicia has weathered a lifetime of challenges and uncertainty with her shining attitude and bright smile.

As a baby, “she couldn’t sit up. She couldn’t crawl. She couldn’t feed herself,” Tina says.

But as time progressed, Tina saw hope in her little girl’s eyes.

At age 2, Felicia began using her eyesight to communicate. The toddler would use her eyes to point to letters, words and pictures to express her thoughts and feelings.

What Felicia couldn’t do physically, she used her beautiful mind to do.

“She is so smart,” says Tina.

Today, with the help of eye-gaze technology, Felicia’s activities mirror those of other young women. She texts her mom and Facebooks with friends. Once unable to speak at all, she can now say several words on her own, without the help of her computer.

Soul Studio, however, has taken her fortitude to a whole new level.

“I think she really gets a challenge here and has to use her mind to both communicate with other people and figure out how she’s going to make each project,” says Stuart Opperer, a volunteer who works with Felicia.

The two make quite a team, says Stuart, adding that the teaching moments go both ways.

“She’s taught me so many things about myself,” he says, and about looking at artists like Felicia as people with challenges, rather than disabilities. “And that makes a person – all people – more human.”

For Felicia, the studio has become a haven for her creative spirit.
“Soul Studio is a place that brings people like me together,” she says. “I can be free there to do artwork and meet new friends.”