Soul Scholarship Created in Memory of Laela Miller Saulson

Eli Saulson never met his biological mother, Laela Miller Saulson, who passed away shortly after his birth at the age of 28. She possessed a caring nature and compassion for children facing challenges — and had an affinity for art. To honor her memory, Saulson has funded a Soul Scholarship, enabling an artist to develop their creative talents in perpetuity at Friendship Circle’s Soul Studio program. 

Laela was born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1939 and grew up in a proud Jewish home in Crystal Falls. Voted most likely to succeed in high school, she achieved statewide recognition in debate while also playing saxophone in the band and writing for the school newspaper. Furthermore, she was a prolific artist and loved outdoor adventures.

Photo of Laela Miller Saulson.

Photo of Laela Miller Saulson.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, she became a teacher in the Royal Oak School System, specializing in helping children with learning disabilities. The people in her life spoke highly of her fun-loving personality, humanity and capacity for friendship. For all of these reasons, Saulson found no better way to honor her memory than to make a contribution to Friendship Circle’s Forever Friendship legacy campaign.

Giving to Friendship Circle’s legacy campaign allows donors to invest in the nonprofit’s mission by providing “forever friendship” for future generations. The Soul Scholarship will help support an artist in the Soul Studio program, a supported art studio program with an open studio space and gallery for adults, 18 years or older with special needs. The program provides participants the opportunity to reveal their hidden talents to the community and be recognized as included, contributing members of society.

soul studio artists at work

Dresner Foundation Soul Studio Artists enjoy the open studio space at Friendship Circle Farber Center and a wide variety of materials to work with.

Saulson has long been involved with the Detroit Jewish community and has been privileged to sit on the board of the William Davidson Foundation, which funded the scholarship through his discretionary fund. The impact of the Chabad Lubavitch movement and the message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe resonated with Saulson, motivating him to become more involved with Friendship Circle’s Dresner Foundation Soul Studio.

“I found it interesting that the Rebbe would speak of people with developmental disabilities as exceptional,” says Saulson. “And the art at Soul Studio is truly exceptional.” 

Saulson is inspired by the way Friendship Circle has changed both the local community and the world’s view of kids, teens and adults with special needs. 

“When I was growing up in the 1970s, special needs kids were separated from the rest of us and not always treated kindly by their peers.  Now through Friendship Circle, there is a waiting list for kids who want to be friends with them.” 

The legacy of his mother’s generosity and great capacity for friendship moved Saulson to give the gift of eternal friendship to an individual with special needs in her honor. Now, he hopes others will follow his example.

“I’m hopeful that in giving this [scholarship] and in telling this story that I can inspire others to do the same thing.”

Get Involved

Your gift to Friendship Circle’s legacy campaign is an investment in the future. One that makes an incredible difference in the lives of individuals with special needs, their families, and those struggling with isolation, addiction, and other related crises. Your gift will ensure Friendship Circle programs and facilities are available to serve the community today and in the future.

Learn more.

For media inquiries, please contact Melanie Barnett at [email protected].

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