Lea Pollak has lived in Oak Park, Michigan his whole life. He was raised Orthodox and grew up attending Young Israel Synagogue in Oak Park, he was diagnosed with ADD and depression in second grade. He has five brothers, four older and one younger. He attended Akiva Hebrew Day School, graduating in 2013. In high school he was involved in the National Council for Synagogue Youth, a division of the Orthodox Union. He also attended Oakland Community College for two and a half years, taking courses in psychology and the visual arts.
Finding His Place
For many years, he had displayed an interest in the visual arts. Following Rosh Hashanah, his mother mentioned to him that the Friendship Circle was opening an art studio in West Bloomfield. She thought he might enjoy getting involved with the project. In early October, he visited the Farber Soul Center and immediately fell in love. He had not previously been involved with Friendship Circle, but liked the idea of being a part of the art center. Pollak describes his experience in the Soul Studio, “[I like] seeing people with disabilities creating beauty, and seeing friendly and devoted staff and volunteer members working with the artists in the studio one-on-one. They know how to to tailor their teaching methods to each individual student. And there is no pressure for a grade.”
Pollak believes that words are not enough sometimes, but through his art he is able to communicate his emotions more effectively. “Words are inefficient. With art, anger can be red. There can be varying degrees of the red, and different textures can convey levels of an emotion. I have been doodling for a very long time.” He believes he focuses better when his hands are moving. Pollak has created several pieces in the Farber Soul Studio including a scarf inspired by the British television series Doctor Who.
Pollak’s art is influenced by the style used in japanese manga novels and the popular Pokemon series. He is a self proclaimed, “nerd” that enjoys being, “immersed in Japanese pop culture.” He said he is currently working on a “nerdist” print incorporating various fandoms and a quote from author John Green, “Nerds like us are allowed to be un-ironically enthusiastic about stuff.” Pollak hopes to see the print placed on posters, mugs, notebooks, etc.
“I’m Home Here.”
“By working at the Soul Center, as someone who works in various media of art, I’m able to create art while receiving instruction.” Pollak says. To people or artists in particular who want to get involved with the Soul Center but are apprehensive or afraid to do so, Pollak says that “coming here affords numerous opportunities to grow as an artist and to learn new techniques. Also, the staff and volunteers create a super-friendly environment. I’m home here.”Pollak is excited for the Center’s bright future, including new additions such as the woodworking and framing studio. He is especially looking forward to getting use the 3D printer and seeing new talent come to the studio.
“People with special needs can really teach us life lessons that we cannot get from professors; they are people who are capable of doing things the same as typical, productive people of society and what they have to offer can be truly inspiring and amazing.” – Bassie Shemtov, Director
Since its founding in 1994, Friendship Circle has expanded the concept of matching teenagers with volunteers in what has become a hallmark volunteer program that has spread to 88 cities around the world.
In 2005, to address the demand from the volunteer initiative for programs that included individuals with special needs, we built the state-of-the-art Ferber Kaufman LifeTown facility on the Meer Family Friendship Center campus, through which we innovated programs that ended up serving thousands of people.
(Note: Ferber Kaufman LifeTown refers to donors Ron Ferber and Alon Kaufman and Farber Center refers to donors William and Audrey Farber of the Farber Foundation.)
This was the basis of the dream that began in 2012 to create a place where adults with special needs could call their own. A place where they could learn vocational skills through traditional, digital and the culinary arts as well as earn an income once they have mastered their craft. And also, a place where individuals with special needs that had aged out of the current Friendship Circle programs could still find inclusion and community among peers.
We have been asked many questions about how the Farber Center came about and what the future holds. For this reason, we would like to provide you with a multi-part series on the past, present, and future of the Farber Center.
A New Special Need
As the years went by, Friendship Circle came to the realization that our population – an entire generation of children with special needs – had entered adulthood and along with this came an overwhelming need to address the extreme isolation they faced after finishing school and the lack of job opportunities.
Former children who had participated in Friendship Circle programming since the age of five were left without a place of inclusion after aging out of the programs that Friendship Circle offered, being forced to stay at home because there was a gap in offerings to meet their needs.
In 2012, the Friendship Circle directors started making plans for the future of young adults with special needs.
March 2012: Planning for the Future
The Friendship Circle directors were discussing the idea to build a restaurant and commissioned plans, with the intention of re-purposing the old multi-purpose room at Ferber Kaufman LifeTown (which had been freed up after the construction of the new Elkus gym in 2010) for the purpose of offering vocational training for individuals with special needs.
May 2013: Finding a Location
Friendship Circle began searching the area surrounding its location to find vacant spaces for the restaurant idea. A phone call from a supporter suggested they take a look at the Drake Summit strip mall at Walnut Lake and Drake roads in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan. The building was placed under contract and the renovation plans began.
At this point, Friendship Circle was encouraged by the Farber Foundation to further develop the idea into something that could span more skill areas. They realized the need to have a bigger separate facility that could teach vocational skills and eventually provide jobs.
January-April 2014: Surveying the Field
Friendship Circle Director Bassie Shemtov started visiting several art studio locations across the country (partially inspired by discovering this New York Times article on the Creative Growth Art Center) where similar existing projects were successfully operating. These trips provided inspiration and helped gain an understanding of how Friendship Circle could best structure the Farber Center.
During these visits, Bassie was able to see the possibilities available through hands-on training provided in a variety of artistic mediums, artistic development, gallery exhibition and representation, a social atmosphere among peers and the creation of meaningful lives and careers in art.
Some of the different art studios that will be housed in the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio and Farber Center.
March 2014: Fundraising Drive Gets Underway
In the spring of 2014, Friendship Circle began a campaign that would turn the Farber Soul Center from a dream into reality.
The William and Audrey Farber Foundation generously allowed Friendship Circle to further develop the dream by being a partner in an ongoing matching campaign to raise funds for the project helping Friendship Circle begin proceedings to purchase the building, as well as develop plans to renovate and furnish the new facility.
Additionally, through a generous grant from the Dresner Foundation, we were able to include the studio and art elements to the Farber Center. We shared with the Dresner Foundation this idea to buy this building to create an art program and they provided the funding the general project, in memory of Vera and Joseph Dresner.
This also gave Friendship Circle enough funds to get us within reach of making this project a reality and we went forward to develop plans and set forth the purchase of the building in December 2014.
Friendship Circle then announced to the public that it would be building the Farber Center. The Farber Center would include a cafe which would employ individuals with special needs, art studios that would enable artists to harness their creativity, a community hall for special events and a gallery where thee works of art can be displayed and sold.
November 2014: Art & Soul
In November a special evening “shower” was held called “Art & Soul,” where women were given the opportunity to envision what this facility could accomplish in its mission.
This shower took place in the location of the new Farber Center before construction began, and guests could get a vision of the space that would be utilized while also hosting a small fundraising event to entice excitement in the new location.
Over 450 women showed up to this exciting event.
The walls of the main banquet hall in the facility were decorated with 100 white frames of all sizes and each frame contained a blank sheet of paper and included an object name attached to it (such as a kiln, paintbrushes, laser cutter, paints) with a small colorful donation price tag at the bottom.
Stay Tuned for Part II
Part two of this series on the Farber Center will focus on the the ongoing construction in the Farber Center and the future of the planned programs and facilities. Stay tuned!