Author Archives: admin

Adults with special needs put talents to work at Soul Studio

Adam Egrin made an electric guitar, cutting the shape of the instrument from wood and piecing together parts from other guitars. He painted it white and adhered colorful beads to the front of it. He plugged it in and strummed earlier this month at the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio in West Bloomfield, where Egrin is among roughly 60 artists who paint, work with fiber and clay, sew, make music, take photographs and use technology to reveal talents hidden to the average person. Each of them has special needs, whether it’s autism or cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or other conditions, but all are welcome at Soul Studio, said Bassie Shemtov, who founded the art center about a year ago with her husband, Levi Shemtov.

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Farber Soul Center offers adults with special needs chance to excel in art, cafe jobs

You create a special space for children with special needs: the Friendship Circle. It’s a great success, but what do you offer those children when they grow up? “You know, for several years we had our lovely families, that are like family to us, calling and saying, ‘What are you doing with our kids? They’re sitting at home eating, playing video games. It’s not OK. My kid is getting depressed…’” said Bassie Shemtov, director of Friendship Circle. That’s the challenge that led Shemtov and her husband to develop another very special place, this one for adults with special needs.

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Help special needs kids get out and bike

“He has defied all the odds of what doctors thought he would be able to do. He’s learned to walk, he’s in school, he’s a funny little guy and continues to make progress constantly,” said Michelle Morris, Rillen’s mother. Rillen is a twin and was born at just 23 weeks. His brother passed away after 6 days and now at 7-years-old, Rillen is a determined and compassionate kid.

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U-Matter: High School Seniors Raise Awareness About Suicide

Inspired to continue the healing process after three classmates and one teacher committed suicide last year, West Bloomfield High School seniors Ryan Ishbia, 17, and Josh Cooper, 17, with the guidance of teachers, administrators and Rabbi Yarden Blumstein of the Friendship Circle, planned “U-Matter,” a weeklong program aimed at bringing attention to mental health issues and suicide prevention Nov. 14-18. The week included art and essay writing contests and special guest speakers. The highlight of the week was a day of assemblies for all students. In shifts, teachers prepared “Ted Talk”-style lectures complete with PowerPoint presentations and uplifting videos to accompany their talks that were given to the entire student body of 1,700 students.

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Jews in Recovery Find Friendship and Inspiration at Michigan Retreat

Experts in the field of addiction agree that a strong support system is one of the most important components of long-term recovery, but creating and maintaining an effective network is often difficult amid the daily demands of work, family and personal obligations. For Jewish individuals and families who struggle with addiction and its far-reaching consequences, the annual Jewish recovery retreat sponsored by the Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House in Michigan provides a welcome respite that helps participants strengthen their connections to their recovery, their Judaism and each other. About 40 people gathered last month at the Butzel Retreat Center in Ortonville, Mich., to enjoy the fourth annual weekend of workshops, nature walks, early-morning exercise and delicious meals in a setting surrounded by woods and wildlife. The group included couples, families with young children, and individuals of varying ages and backgrounds. Child care was provided so parents could take part in the various programs.

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Friendship Circle Hosts Knitting Group

12 years ago, Lenore Yellen began a knitting group out of her home in Michigan.  The group was created to give the knitters an opportunity to work for a good cause and to socialize, as opposed to just sitting and watching TV.

Golden Girls Knitting (6)

Lenore Yellen- Knitting Group Leader


Yellen’s love for service was born when her son was in treatments for cancer at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.  She was deeply upset by the condition of the blankets the patients were given so she went out and bought quality blankets and donated them to the hospital.

Yellen started the knitting group in her basement, where she had the women start out knitting squares, small pieces that would be combined to create larger projects, such as blankets. She then donated the completed pieces to hospitals so the patients would have warm, soft and quality blankets. Later the group began to knit hats and purchase mittens to donate to numerous organizations.

Lenore will not create anything that will be sold for profit; she only donates if the products will be given to patients or whoever needs them without them having to pay for anything. “Our goal is to give to everyone who needs, not to sell.”

The Golden Girls Knitting Group consists of thirty-five women, some of whom attend a group in South Florida, where Lenore spends her winters. While in Florida, everything the group creates is sent back to Michigan.

Golden Girls Knitting (1)

The Golden Girls Knitting Group

A New Home

Lenore’s connection to Friendship Circle began around sixty years ago, when she connected with Rabbi Barel and Bat Shevah Shemtov, the parents of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who would co-found Friendship Circle in 1994 with his wife, Bassie.

After the Friendship Circle opened their current main building in 2005, she started to donate hats to the Weinberg Village. Around this time she noticed that some of the women in the group were having difficulty getting into her basement.  She asked Bassie if she could use the Friendship Circle for her group and since then the Friendship Circle Knitting Group of Golden Girls, named in honor of the women’s ages, has met every Tuesday to knit for  a good cause.

Golden Girls Knitting (4)

Some of The Golden Girls

Celebrating Success

Every July, the group celebrates everyone’s birthdays, with each member receiving a cupcake so they can blow out a candle in honor of themselves, and they all sing “Happy Birthday” to one another.

When asked how many pieces of knitting the group has donated since its inception, Lenore responded “Thousands! I couldn’t count that many… over the period of all these years, it’d have to be thousands and thousands.”

Lenore believes what they do absolutely has a positive impact on the community. “It’s helping people in need. We even give even king-sized sheets which families without beds can sleep on, and put the blanket on top of them.”

Golden Girls Knitting (3)

Words of Advice

Lenore taught in Southfield Public Schools for twenty-one years, working with special needs children. “[They are] very, very dear to me. I love ’em to death. They love me and I love them… and I hope and I wish that, everybody out there would love ’em like I love ’em.” Yellen says of the children she’s worked with. “I love every single minute of these children. And they love me. And when they see me twenty, twenty-five years later, out on the street, they run and hug me and kiss me still. It just pleases my heart. They really are special.”

The group is always accepting new members and Lenore welcomes anyone, regardless of their level of experience with knitting. “All they have to do is come.”

Organizations and Groups the Golden Girls donate to:
Most of the Major Hospitals in Michigan
Synagogues and Churches
Head Start Academy
The Friendship Circle’s Weinerg Village
Temple Israel
Baldwin Center
Farmington Community School
The National Council of Jewish Women
Children’s Center in Downtown Detroit

For a Special Set of Students, Jewish Learning Comes to Life

For most Jewish children, learning about the High Holidays is a natural component of their education; preparing for this special time of year has long been a traditional part of day schools and Sunday-school programs throughout the world. But for children with special needs and their families, like most aspects of their lives, the holiday season is not so simple. Many of these children attend public schools in order to receive necessary special-education services, and most Sunday or after-school programs are geared towards children with mainstream learning styles and abilities. The Efshar Circle, a program of Friendship Circle of Michigan and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, fills the gap by providing a Jewish and Judaic program developed especially for students with a variety of special needs. Curricula are designed to meet each student’s current level and learning style, from beginners to those who have had previous Jewish education. Quite fittingly, the Hebrew word efshar means “possible.”

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Oakland celebrity chefs compete to help children with special needs

Chef Derik Watson has a warm place in his heart — and his stove — for the Friendship Circle. That’s why he, amid a trio of Oakland County culinary professionals, will share his culinary skills to help children with special needs in a Celebrity Chef event.Three local chefs will cook up something special at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, at the Farber Soul Center and Soul Café in West Bloomfield Township. Proceeds will benefit Friendship Circle of Michigan, an organization that provides programs and services to individuals with special needs and their families.

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Metro Detroit’s Walk 4 Friendship

The Friendship Circle’s annual WALK4FRIENDSHIP is expected to draw thousands of metro Detroiters to West Bloomfield today to raise money and awareness for children with special needs and their families. This year’s goal is to raise more than $600,000 that will go to programming and other support needs. But it’s much more than a walk, and includes entertainment, kids workshops, carnival rides, delicious foods and an art competition.

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The Journey Never Ends: My Final Blog Post (for now)

Editors Note: Max is a 20-year-old college student who just so happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. He is an intern at the Friendship Circle of Michigan and has been a part of the organization since 2004.

I have said it before to you, my audience, that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of eight, in October of 2004, following my participation in a study at Detroit Children’s Hospital.

In the past twelve years this piece of myself has shifted and changed so many times, that I cannot begin to guess how many. I’ve been through more than someone my age should have to go through and my family will vouch this statement, although my life pales in comparison to so many people I have met, both on the Autism spectrum and off it.

For so long I tried to push this part of myself away. I convinced myself that having Asperger’s would be an obstacle blocking my path to achieving my goals. In my own self-hatred, I lashed out at my brother Gabriel, in a misguided attempt to perhaps give him a better chance at succeeding in life than I had.

I still find myself subconsciously judging him, as well as others I have met on the spectrum. It has taken me much internal reflection and soul-searching to accept myself and him. In my teen years, the weight I carried increased with additional diagnoses of depression, at age thirteen, and anxiety, at age sixteen. All of that combined with the stress I faced in high school I was beyond overwhelmed.

Throughout all of this, all the insanity and madness that pervades this world, there have been very few constant things in my life. One of those happens to be the Friendship Circle.  When I took on this position, as an intern assisting with creating written content, I remarked to my family that I really had come full circle (pun intended).

Shortly after my diagnosis (the first one, in 2004) we became involved with the organization and I attended the Friendship Circle winter camp that December. Throughout my childhood I would participate in multiple programs including: Friends at Home, Friends at Lifetown and Karate, and I would walk with my family in the annual Walk 4 Friendship.  We participated in the walk every from it’s inception in 2005 until 2012, when school began to get in the way. I know everyone here very well and I credit them with helping me to become the man I am today.

The Granitz/Fogel/Zussman Walk team, 2007.

Me at 12 years old, camera in hand, ready to capture the world around me.

(Left to right) Noah, Gabriel, our mom, DeAnna, then me- October 2008.

I will be honest. It is very bittersweet to reflect on the last twelve years. It feels as if they have flown by at an impossible pace. Back then, I struggled to get through the day at school. I was very shy and after hearing the words “he has autism”, and learning what they meant, I could not hope to envision a scenario where all my dreams could still come true.

Now, I’m about to enter my third year in college. I’ve traveled essentially alone to New York City, most of Western Europe, and Israel. I’ve been published three times in a literary journal and twice by an international online publication platform. I’m on my way to becoming a full-fledged writer!

If you said to me even five years ago that this would be my life, I would have never believed you. I could only dream of my future back then. The dreams that I held onto seemed as inconsequential and incorporeal as a wisp of smoke. Now, I’m living that future I wanted so desperately. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s more than I could have ever hoped for.

I took this on the train bound for Toronto, just a few weeks ago. It is still surreal to me that I am 20 years old.

I owe much of it to the support I received over the course of these twelve years from the wonderful staff here at the Friendship Circle and the volunteers who spent countless hours with me. When I was younger, the highlight of my week was coming to the Friendship Circle and participating in Friends at Lifetown, as well as Karate.

For a while I resisted it, but I realized that it was doing me good, so I stayed with it; it paid off in the end because I learned skills that would come to benefit me years later.

The title is, sadly, accurate. For the foreseeable future, I will be unable to continue contributing to the blog when I return to school. This experience has been invaluable. I have learned so much in these twelve weeks. Thank you to everyone for the incredible responses and feedback you have given.

Not only did I have the opportunity to return to a place that holds so many happy memories for me to provide resources to parents of and individuals with special needs, but I have noticed a growth in my skill as a writer as well.
This is Max Granitz, signing off.
“Good night, and good luck.”