20 Years Later: Meet the First Participant of Friendship Circle

20 Years of Friendship CircleThis year marks 20 years since Friendship Circle was founded in 1994. Over the next several months we will cover some of the highlights and review some memorable highlights from the past.

In 1994 Bassie and Levi Shemtov moved to Michigan to find ways to help people. Their first project was the creation of the Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House which provides support and guidance for individuals dealing with isolation and addiction. In 1995 they noticed that children with special needs were underserved and needed as much love and friendship as possible.

And so Friendship Circle began with a little girl.

Her name was Gwendolyn Friedman, and she was six months old when she was introduced to Bassie Shemtov.

Left: Gwendolyn Friedman | Right: Gwen and buddy Noa

“Gwen was an adorable little girl, our very first special friend. It was a little intimidating at first for our teen, but soon they became fast buddies, which was really extraordinary,” recalls Bassie Shemtov, Life Town Director.

Originally from Houston, Texas, the Friedmans were living in Farmington Hills when Gwen was born on September 23, 1994. Learning about the Friendship Circle opened up many doors and showed them the many possibilities.

Gwen participated in what became known as [email protected] a program where volunteers would visit a child’s home and help with homework, play together and give parents a much needed break. Today [email protected] has grown to include over 100 children with special needs and 125 volunteers each year. But in 1995 Gwen was child #1.

Gwen eventually moved backed to Houston and in 2003 Friendship Circle of Houston was founded and once again Gwen had a home away from home.

Top Left: Buddy Noa, Gwen, Buddy Emma | Top Right: Gwen at Purim | Lower Left: Steve (father), Houston buddy, Gwen | Lower Right: Noah (brother), friend Sarah Barr, Gwen and Houston buddy

Top Left: Buddy Noa, Gwen, Buddy Emma | Top Right: Gwen at Purim | Lower Left: Steve (father), Houston buddy, Gwen | Lower Right: Noah (brother), friend Sarah Barr, Gwen, Houston buddy

Having Friendship Circle so nearby has allowed Gwen to participate in one-on-one visits with a buddy during Friends at Home, Sunday Circle, the Bowling Buddies program, celebrating and learning about the Jewish holidays, and participating in the Friendship Walks.

“She enjoyed [the buddies’] weekly visits,” said Jennifer Friedman, Gwen’s mom, about Friendship Circle of Houston’s “Friends @ Home” program. “She liked to play school and give ‘homework’ to her buddies. She also liked to play basketball with them at the JCC gym.”

Left: Noa, Gwen, Emma | Right: Gwen with current buddy Alex

Left: Noa, Gwen, Emma | Right: Gwen with current buddy Alex

Gwendolyn is now 20 and attends the Down Syndrome Academy, which supports lifelong education and learning. She has two siblings: her sister Madolyn, a freshman at Emerson University in Boston, and Noah, her brother who is in sixth grade.

We wish Gwen and her entire family the best of luck In the future. She will always be #1 at Friendship Circle Michigan.

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