Author Archives: Friendship Circle

Nonprofit purchases West Bloomfield bakery to offer job opportunities to adults with special needs

The nonprofit Friendship Circle recently purchased Dakota Bread Company in West Bloomfield as a way to offer job training opportunities for adults with special needs.

“The most important thing you can do for individuals with special needs is fill their day with purpose in a way that includes them in the community, and this bakery will do exactly that,” said Bassie Shemtov, Friendship Circle co-founder.

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Dakota Bread is Back in Business

A steady stream of cars — 189 in the first hour alone — passed through the Boardwalk shopping center parking lot for a drive-through open house in celebration of Friendship Circle’s recent purchase of Dakota Bread Company. The organization recently purchased the bakery to train young adults with special needs by teaching life and job skills.

By the time the three-hour event ended, an estimated 1,200 people had attended the Oct. 25 celebration. While the West Bloomfield police and a handful of volunteers directed traffic, some attendees waited as long as 20 minutes to participate in the free event.

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The Friendship Circle Knows the Difference a Friend Can Make

In 1994, husband-wife duo Bassie and Levi Shemtov declared that they would dedicate their lives to social outreach, with a mission to serve people who experienced a sense of loneliness and isolation.

Fast forward to 2015 and that declaration has manifested into the Friendship Circle, a nonprofit organization co-founded by the Shemtovs whose goal is to provide individuals with special needs support, friendship and inclusion through social, educational and recreational programming.

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Friendship Circle Buys Dakota Bread Company From Retiring Owners

Dakota Bread Company, a popular West Bloomfield bakery known for its challah, will reopen next week under surprising new management. Today, Friendship Circle, a local Lubavitch-affiliated nonprofit focusing on individuals with special needs, announced the purchase of the bakery, which will be used as a venue to create job opportunities for adults with special needs.

The sale will officially close on Oct. 15, and the bakery will close temporarily Oct. 16-18 to transition into a kosher certified establishment. Reopening is scheduled for Oct. 19 and a private ribbon-cutting ceremony will follow. A community “drive-through” open house event will take place Oct. 25.

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Friendship Circle of Michigan buys bakery to expand job options for people with special needs

WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Friendship Circle of Michigan has done amazing work helping people with special needs find jobs.

The mission has grown so much, that they’re expanding in a big way. They have purchased a bakery to expand job options for people with special needs.

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Friendship Meets Baking: The Story Behind Friendship Circle’s Purchase of Dakota Bread

Friendship Circle recently purchased West Bloomfield’s own Dakota Bread Company, well-known throughout metro Detroit for its delicious challah bread! Under Friendship Circle management, Dakota Bread will host a bakery training program for adults with special needs in the community, providing self-fulfillment and career opportunities.

Friendship Circle Board Chairman Ron Hodess shares the story behind Friendship Circle’s exciting new project in a Q&A. Read more below.

Where did the idea for Friendship Circle to have a bakery start?

Friendship Circle started a challah baking program several years ago as a vocational program that trained participants to bake challah. It was a successful program that gave opportunities to people with different abilities. When the program was concluded, we had requests from many Friendship Circle families and also from the community to restart the program.

One night after dinner, my wife Sue had one of those light bulb moments. She proclaimed that it was now the right time for the Friendship Circle to start a bakery and continue the challah baking program. It would serve the adult special needs community through job training and employment. It would also be the perfect complement to the Soul Café and catering business already providing various jobs to people with special needs.

How was Dakota Bread chosen as the perfect location?

We started touring different bakeries for ideas. A consistent theme from everyone we spoke with was that the best tasting challah was found at Dakota Bread. Within days we learned that the owners of Dakota Bread, who ran the business for over 20 years, were preparing to retire to Florida and wanted to sell. Wow, the stars were lining up for this to happen.

A key turning point was when we tested the Dakota Bread challah to determine if we could bake it as a kosher recipe. We were delighted to find out that all the ingredients in Dakota Bread are already kosher and that no ingredients needed to be changed!

What inspired donors to jump on board?

Our donors to the Dakota Bakery have been extremely generous with their time, advice and funding. I was gratified, but not surprised, to learn that the bakery was a “love at first taste” experience for most of our donors. As soon as they learned about the mission to create jobs for people with all abilities, and then they tasted the mission, they were all-in! (Not to mention their immediate love for the tasty challah.)

Why is this new venture meaningful to you and your family?

The Friendship Circle has been meaningful to our family since it started over 25 years ago. Our boys, Jay and Andy, have participated in the Friendship Circle family since they were very young. They met their closest friends at the Friendship Circle. It is a place that is a meaningful part of an extended family.

As the kids grew older (Jay is now 27 and Andy is 24), Friendship Circle programming evolved to create vocational opportunities for adults. This includes the Soul Café and Soul Studio. With the addition of Dakota Bread, this will create another great place for people with all abilities to learn new skills in a caring, friendly and productive environment.

Where do you see Dakota Bread and the bakery training program headed in the future?

Dakota Bread and the bakery training program will serve the needs of many in our community who are ready, able and willing to work. There is no limit to what they can accomplish and there is no limit to the bakery. Yesterday I saw that one of our participants in the bakery training program posted this message: “I can’t wait to start working [at Dakota Bread] and seeing what the future looks like!”

What inspires you about Friendship Circle’s legacy?

Under the leadership of Bassie and Levi Shemtov, the Friendship Circle has changed the lives of so many people, one family at a time. This includes the extended family of teens, volunteers, trainees, employees, artists and others.

The Friendship Circle spirit and programs have been replicated in over 70 other locations around the world. I have been fortunate to be able to visit some of the other Friendship Circle locations in US cities and also in Israel and it is an amazing thing to see.

Thank you to Bassie and Levi for their dedication over these past 25 years. Back then, who knew how many people would be touched by this organization? Let’s see how many challahs we can bake and lives we can impact. The future is summed up by our slogan: “Bake the world a better place.”

Bake the World a Better Place: Drive-Through Open House to Celebrate Friendship Circle’s Acquisition of Dakota Bread, Oct. 25

Friendship Circle is thrilled to announce the upcoming purchase of West Bloomfield’s own Dakota Bread Company, well-loved throughout the community for its award-winning challah! While everyone’s favorite challah recipe will remain unchanged, Friendship Circle has exciting plans in store. The bakery will run a training program for adults with special needs to teach them life skills including time management, organization, customer service and more – with the goal of trainees becoming employees in the future.

Come to our drive-through open house at Dakota Bread on Sunday, Oct. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. to help us celebrate! Attendees will drive through stations to receive various gifts. Receive challah dough to bake in your own oven, a bakery-themed craft for families to do at home and limited-edition souvenirs.

5 Things to Know Before You Go

Before attending Sunday’s event, here’s what to know:

1. Safety is our #1 priority

We’re conscious of everyone’s comfort level when it comes to in-person events. That’s why you can experience our open house drive-through completely contactless! Choose to either receive your items through your window — or simply keep your windows rolled up and we will place the items in your trunk for contactless pickup.

2.Bake challah on Zoom with guest instructor, Chef Hunny

Bake your challah dough with Chef Hunny Khodorkovsky, live on Zoom. Hunny runs her own private chef company, working locally and traveling abroad to offer kosher food in exotic destinations, and apprentices at one of Detroit’s hottest restaurants, Selden Standard. Her love for challah will be shared in a zoom workshop that will transform your challah from dough ball to ready-to-serve loaf.

Attend one of three sessions:

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 988 5374 7385

2 – 2:30 EST
3 – 3:30 EST
4 – 4:30 EST

3. We’re giving away crafts for kids and families

Make sure to pick up your Shabbat-themed foil art craft at the drive-through! Scratch off the foil onto the picture to create a metallic-shimmer design.

4. Collect special food, drink and limited-edition souvenirs

Enjoy a sampling of our delicious baked treats! Choose a drink: apple cider, orange juice or coffee. Then, receive a baked treat of your choice: muffin (apple streusel or pumpkin) or sugar cookie or chocolate babka.

5. Directions for entering the drive-through

The drive-through open house will take place at Dakota Bread Company, located in The Boardwalk shopping center, south of Maple Road on the east side of Orchard Lake Road.

If arriving from the south, please enter The Boardwalk shopping center south entrance near Dairy Queen. For arriving from the north, you will drive past The Boardwalk shopping center and make a U-turn onto Orchard Lake Road north to enter the south entrance near Dairy Queen.

Look for the Friendship Circle + Dakota Bread purple flags at the entrance!

BREAKING: Friendship Circle To Purchase Beloved Dakota Bread Company to Create Career Opportunities for Adults with Special Needs

Friendship Circle is thrilled to announce their plan to purchase West Bloomfield’s own Dakota Bread Company, well-loved throughout the community for its award-winning challah! While everyone’s favorite challah recipe will remain unchanged, Friendship Circle has exciting plans in store. The bakery will run a training program for adults with special needs to teach them life skills including time management, organization, customer service and more – with the goal of trainees becoming employees in the future. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the bakery’s reopening will take place Oct. 20 at 11 a.m.

Dakota Bread will finalize the purchase and close Oct. 16-18 to transition to a menu kosher-certified by the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit. Friendship Circle confirms that all challah ingredients are kosher and the recipe will NOT change. The community is invited to attend a drive-through open house on Oct. 25 from noon to 3:00 p.m. Attendees will celebrate by driving through various stations – including a video about the bakery pilot program, challah dough to bake in your own oven, a bakery-themed craft for families to do at home and limited-edition gifts. RSVP for the bakery drive through:

It all started in 2015 when Friendship Circle co-founders Levi Shemtov and Bassie Shemtov recognized that many children in Friendship Circle programming had since grown into adults experiencing loneliness and isolation. They yearned for a sense of purpose and community. That’s when Friendship Circle decided to create employment opportunities to help adults with special needs become integrated community members.

In the beginning, Friendship Circle created two pilot programs – the Soul Studio Art Program and a bakery vocational program. After the pilots were very successful, the Soul Café and Soul Café Training Program were born, thanks to the generosity of the Farber family and the Dresner Foundation. However, some trainees who participated in the original bakery pilot program didn’t transition to the new Soul Café Training Program because the two programs required different skill sets. Instead, a long-term plan to open a bakery to train and employ these individuals developed. This initiative was led by Ron Hodess, chairman of Friendship Circle’s board, who recognized the gap in Friendship Circle’s services. Divine providence intervened, and the perfect opportunity arose to purchase Dakota Bread Company, rather than build a bakery from scratch.

“We are purchasing Dakota Bread Company because we saw the opportunity to further our mission of helping adults with special needs find job training opportunities at the bakery,” said Bassie Shemtov, Friendship Circle co-founder. “The most important thing you can do for individuals with special needs is to fill their day with purpose in a way that includes them in the community, and this bakery will do exactly that. Dakota Bread Company is a well-known and admired business in the community, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to build upon that legacy and become even more ingrained in the metro Detroit community.”

Friendship Circle will retain all 11 employees of Dakota Bread Company. The current staff will continue in their respective roles, in addition to helping train adults with special needs. Shalom Shomer, current director of Soul Cafe and its catering divisions, Epic Kosher and Milk & Honey, will direct the bakery. Friendship Circle will hire an additional staff member to manage the bakery training program.

To support this initiative, please email [email protected] or call 248-788-7878 x201. Learn more about our mission at

Friendship Circle Mourns the Loss of Edward Meer

Friendship Circle is saddened to share the passing of one of our closest and long-time supporters. Edward Meer, z”l, made dreams come true for tens of thousands of individuals with special needs, their families and the community.

In the early days of Friendship Circle, Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov, and a small group of dedicated supporters, had a dream for a building specifically designed for kids with special needs. A space where families can receive support to improve their lives, and where kids can be themselves.

When Ed Meer heard this dream, he immediately took action to make it a reality. Today, his family name and legacy lives on and is recognized by the thousands of people who visit our flagship buildings on the Meer Family Friendship Center campus.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov shares the story of how the Meer Family Friendship Center came to be.

“In 1999, Ed Meer came to the Friendship Circle annual dinner. In our dinner journal, we shared an article about a building for children with special needs titled, “Our Dream.” At the end of the dinner, Mr. Meer came over to me pointing at that page and said, “I’ll do it.”

Meer made dreams become reality. His name graces buildings for community organizations all around this community and beyond. Many organizations were able to grow and reach their goals because of his generosity. For Friendship Circle, it was a transformational gift that helped us move from a trailer to a 23,000 square foot building. His lead gift was followed by many other generous donors who made our campuses possible.”

Edward will be deeply missed by the Friendship Circle community and everyone who’s been impacted by his kindness and generosity. Edward made Friendship Circle’s dream come true of creating a home-base for our many programs and services. Because of that, the lives of thousands of children with special needs were changed.

Shari Kaufman, vice president of the Friendship Circle Board and Alon Kaufman, executive committee member shares thoughts on the legacy of Edward Meer.

“We are blessed that in this community, we have so many generous donors. When it came to Ed Meer, giving was not just about making a donation, it was about making a difference — and he sure knew how to make a difference. Ed Meer touched so many thousands of lives, lives he had never met. Alon and I feel blessed to have known Ed.

The kindness and love that this wonderful man put into the Friendship Circle will be an inspiration to all who knew him and to many who will never get the chance to. Ed Meer will forever truly be a light unto the nation.”

May Edward’s memory be a blessing for each and every one of us and may his legacy continue to turn dreams into reality. Edward’s wonderful legacy will continue to shine through all the great institutions that he helped establish.

We send our condolences to our friend and Edward’s beloved wife Gloria, and to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will continue his legacy.

Funeral Details

To honor his memory, the Meer family is asking for contributions to the Friendship Circle. To make a contribution, visit

A family graveside service at will take place 3 p.m. on Oct. 6 at Adat Shalom Memorial Park Cemetary.

News from UMatter: Suicide Prevention Month and Fall Programming

UMatter’s mission is to build community, friendship, and support for isolated teens by instilling within them an appreciation for their inherent and wholesome value, says Rabbi Yarden Blumstein, director of teen programming at Friendship Circle. This September is Suicide Prevention Month, and UMatter has found unique ways to engage with teens while remaining socially distant.

Read more below in a Q&A with Rabbi Yarden on how UMatter is participating in Suicide Prevention Month and how teens can get involved with UMatter this fall:

Q: What is suicide prevention month?

A: It is a month focused on raising the bar in regards to suicide awareness and prevention. It is not the only month that we need to focus on suicide prevention and it is not the highest suicide concern month. It is an opportunity for us to better our approach, knowledge, training, and processes in regards to suicide prevention.

Q: Why is it important to discuss teen mental health right now, during a pandemic?

A: The pandemic has changed everything in regards to our social infrastructure. From not being able to get an in-person therapy appointment to not getting social touchpoints, to the vast amounts of uncertainty and insecurity, there are a lot of new pressures and fears without the old coping tools available.

Also, without the regular check-ins that naturally happen when people are out and about, it’s harder to know when someone is struggling until it really peaks.

Q: What is UMatter doing in acknowledgment of suicide prevention month?

A: We ran a story-sharing campaign where people sent us a few lines from their journey and we posted it as a series on the UMatter Instagram. People really liked that. We are also relaunching our teen support program, Teen Talks, and are in the process of launching a new peer-to-peer program.

Additionally, we are hosting our benchmark UMatter Week at Cranbrook, an essential UMatter program for high schools and middle schools to highlight teen mental health, suicide prevention, and resiliency. It includes a variety of programs that will be adapted for COVID-19 such as a virtual guest speaker, an art project, hallway decorating and video making.

Q: What will UMatter look like this Fall? How can teens get involved?

A: Socially distant suicide prevention training is a must during this challenging time, and we are hoping to give the training to teens over the coming months. Our Teen Talks program will be back both socially distant at Friendship Circle and virtually on Zoom. Our peer to peer program is available for all teens looking to give and get support. We are also hosting both virtual events and socially distant events. For teens that want to create and launch their own initiative, we are providing fellowship opportunities that will support the teen’s creativity and spirit.

To get involved, contact Amanda Smith at [email protected] To learn more about UMatter, visit