Tag Archives: Farber Soul Center

A Fond Look Back on Soul Center Mini (Part 3 of a series)

This post is part 3 of a series about Friendship Circle’s efforts to create a new faciltiy to encourage the creativity and enhance the vocational skills. Read:
The History of Farber Soul Center’s Creation and Inspiration
Farber Soul Center Construction Update

As we wrap up our time with Soul Center Mini (the temporary satellite facility used by Friendship Circle to host programs for artists while construction took place on the Farber Soul Center), we’ve been looking back on the success of Soul Center Mini and its programs before getting started with our new facility.

To be clear, Soul Center Mini was not the beginning of the Soul Center mission, it was the pre-beginning to what will become a flagship facility for individuals with special needs to express themselves creatively.

Now that we’ve seen what these artists are capable of when piloting these programs, we can only imagine what continued excitement and success we will see from the enhanced facility and programming that will be offered at the Farber Soul Center.


Because we couldn’t wait for the Farber Soul Center to be completed before getting started with programs, Soul Center Mini is where the art programs were piloted and expanded to meet the needs of the artists and also allowed a tremendous learning experience for what would be offered at the Farber Soul Center and how the studio would function when completed.

An Instructor’s View


Soul Center Art Director Brian Kavanaugh on Soul Center Mini programs:

“What I’m most excited about (coming from a contemporary art point of view) is the experimental and unorthodox ways that art can be displayed works really well for the studio in terms of the flexibility we have for the artists here. This gives us the opportunities to create unique supports and ways for art to be displayed for the artists and create a supportive studio environment for the many tasks involved with running a studio and how all the elements feed into each other in this self-generating environment we have.”

Two Greatest Strengths of Soul Center Mini

  1. Flexibility in terms of being able to acclimate to the wants and needs of any individual as they come in, be it sensory or socially based, challenges with fine motor skills, we have a myriad of ways to understand these challenges and learn how to assess them
  2. Self-generative (not superfluous or offering busy work) it’s important that we function successfully for the artists that like to paint or sculpt (people that can appreciate that abstract way of thinking in front of a blank canvas) as well as people that can appreciate more concrete tasks with expectations at the end so that they can know what success looks like before starting a project.

Tools Artists Can Actually Use

Facilitating artists share their expertise with the many tools used at Soul Center Mini and can communicate with the artists on what they’ve been working on. This allows the instructors to be as sensitive and responsive as possible to the wants and needs of each artist by putting mechanisms in place to help with all the essential elements we try to impart on the artists.

These elements include: accountability for projects, learning to appreciate the value (monetary or spiritually) of their work and positive reinforcement of their creative expression.



There are not enough words to describe the Soul Center Mini volunteers, but a few would be: supportive, skillful and dependable, scaled and enthusiastic.

The volunteers have also been extremely open to Friendship Circle’s way of running the studio and very upfront with their own ideas, creating a fantastic environment that could not exist without them.

Above & Beyond


Lori is a fantastic volunteer and instructor for the laser cutter that is always going above and beyond; she has an extensive history and knowledge about the equipment. From the start, Lori was incredibly generous and enthusiastic and it was clear from the get-go she would be valuable to the organization and has continued to do so in her work with the Soul Center Mini. Each person needs their own personalized introduction to the laser cutter and Lori is able to respond to each inquiry in a quick and adaptive way.

The Laser Cutter

The laser cutter is an industrial piece of equipment that cuts or etches designs onto materials in a physical form and is an impressive piece of equipment that is substantial and can also be intimidating for first-time users. However, it’s a great machine that lots of artists have taken to quite tremendously.

The laser cutter is an extremely versatile piece of equipment that can incorporate art pieces and translate them to other materials in a way that’s extremely exciting for artists and gives them a great sense of pride.

When we branch out into the custom order component of making high-quality, personalized products, it’s extremely commercially viable and takes the outcome of what we do at Soul Center to a whole new level.

Bringing Drawings to Life

photo 3

Stephanie likes to create representations of people. We translated some of her line drawings to the laser cutter and other artists cut out the shapes that composed her characters and glued them together to create a three-dimensional personification of her two-dimensional drawings. This gave Stephanie the opportunity to see both the front and rear representations of her drawings and see them more formally by taking someone’s interests and using our tools to turn it into an educational opportunity for Stephanie.

More Than Just a Chessboard

chess pieces

David plays chess himself, and he wanted to make something that he could appreciate and call his own while also creating something he could relate to. He took to this project, with Lori’s enthusiastic help, and not only made the chessboard, but the pieces as well and has continued to make custom-order personalized chess sets. It started as something he wanted to make for his own sake, but now it has become something that relates to other people and David can now have a dialogue with customers by taking orders, discussing the set and desires and collaborates with patrons where larger conversations and relationships can happen.


When an artist is using a loom, they are able to understand that there is an outcome and a goal in mind when starting a project. Because of this understanding, there’s a lot more pride and satisfaction that is achieved through the process.

Loom-related projects are not in the abstract; artists can see the progression right in front of them and understand it as a tangible item while appreciating that it has a potentially direct relationship with someone in the outside community.

Soul Center Mini has looms of varying sizes; from tabletop to rug looms situated on the floor (up to 50” wide) which have been great for a lot of people learning to make scarves, pillows and rugs.

Untapped Resources

loom 1

Akiva wasn’t too sure when he first came to Soul Center Mini about how to integrate himself into the studio, but he has interests in mind for things that he is a personal fan of. He may not have had the idea beforehand of what he would create, but once the tools were in his hands and he was in a space to mold his interests, his first production was a 13-foot scarf in the style of a Dr. Who-tardis, which incorporated his personal passions with his creative expression. When Akiva finished the scarf and pulled it off the loom, he beamed with pride and was so excited to not only create his first product, but also to learn a new skill by using the loom.

Products Available at Soul Center Mini

Soul Center Mini products

  1. Chess boards – Can be ordered and customized/personalized with themes and interact with artists
  2. Mezuzahs – Customizable with colors, lots of artists make mezuzahs because of their personal interests in making the item
  3. Scarves – Customizable, much more appreciated when a customer wants a scarf and collaborates directly with the artist in a social way or can purchase from the artist’s stock and can include buttons or other embellishments
  4. Pillows – frontal square designs of pillows can be customized with colors or chosen from the artist’s backlog.
  5. Silkscreen orders – Shirts, sweatpants, any sort of garment that you can put an image onto
  6. Unique materials – Keepsakes, centerpieces, trinkets, pictures printed onto items such as necklaces, keychains, etched mirrors, glass items, tabletop items
  7. Paintings and drawings done by artists
soul center sign

Farber Soul Center Construction Update (Part 2 of a Series)

The number one question being asked these days is: “When will the Farber Soul Center be open for business?”

To help answer that question, this article will provide a rough timeline for the final construction stages of the Farber Soul Center and tentative opening dates.

If you did not get a chance to read part one of this series make sure you click here to read about the history and development the Farber Soul Center.

The Farber Soul Center is an 18,000 square foot facility located at Walnut Lake & Drake Roads in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan that contains the Soul Café, Dresner Studio, gallery and reception hall.

Farber Soul Center Construction Timeline

Please note that this timeline is an estimate and all dates are subject to change.

Week of January 25:

Here is what will be completed by the end of this week:

  • Pizza oven installation
  • Counter fascia in cafe
  • Soul Café kitchen equipment finishing touches
  • Soul Café lighting
  • Hall Lighting
  • Hall Painting
  • Hall sound system and audio/visual equipment

Week of February 1:

  • Soul Café Community Table Installed
  • Counter kick plates and countertops in cafe
  • Health Inspection certification
  • Hall carpet installation

Week of February 8:

  • Soul Café menu preparation, development and testing
  • Soul Café staff training and preparation
  • Soul Café pilot training program in partnership with JVS

Week of February 15:

  • Soul Café dining area tables (10) and chairs (40) arrive
  • Temporary Certificate of Occupancy application
  • Full kitchen and café trials with equipment and speed of service testing,
  • Dresner Soul Studio silk screening equipment installation (silkscreen, conveyor, and dryer)

Week of February 22:

  • Reception desk for gallery installed

Week of February 29:

  • Scheduled move-in date for studio
  • Shelving for loom and weaving supplies installed

Week of March 7:

  • Soul Café soft launch (open Sunday-Friday from 7:00am-3:00pm)
  • Dresner Soul Studios pottery installation (wheels, kiln, supplies)

Week of March 14:

  • Digital studio equipment installation (computers, camera, large format photo printer, 3D printer)

Week of March 21:

  • Furniture arrives (tables, chairs etc) for 180-person capacity in main hall

Week of March 28:

  • Woodworking equipment arrives
  • Shelving for supplies installed
  • Donor wall in gallery installed


  • Sales of artwork expected to commence

Soul Café


Views of the Soul Cafe during various stages of construction.

As of today, the Soul Café’s soft launch is planned for March 7. All are invited to join us for breakfast, lunch or coffee during the soft launch as we warm up the ovens and prepare for a full launch. The café will be open for business Sunday-Friday from 7:00am-3:00pm. Individuals with special needs will be working in the café in two shifts with six employees in each shift.

Also, the outdoor space has a new fireplace installed already and the patio will be available for private party rentals, weather pending.

Dresner Soul Studio

The Dresner Studio with views of main working area and separate smaller work rooms for individuals to use with decreased distractions.

The structure for the Dresner Soul Studio is set, painting is in progress and all that is needed is the equipment to be installed!

Once the studio is ready for use, pilot programs will begin to run three days each week and start with 25 artists through the summer.


The hall and prep kitchen that will host events, seminars, workshops and will be available for private rentals.

A unique setting for special events, workshops, seminars and more that will expose the community to the Farber Soul Center and its programs. The community hall will also provide a unique setting for special events that will include workshops, seminars, corporate meetings, community events and more hosted by Friendship Circle and other organizations.


gallery construction

A view from the entrance to the gallery where artists’ work will be on display for sale to visiting patrons.

As the artists begin to produce art, they will be given several opportunities to turn their creations into a means by which they can generate income. Within the Farber Soul Center is an art gallery (the gallery is sponsored in memory of Burt and Geri Rissman) where each artist with special needs will have the chance to proudly display their final collection to the public. Here, the artists with special needs will gain commission through the sale of their artwork.

Stay Tuned for Part III

Part three of this series on the Farber Soul Center will focus on the current state of pilot programs (Soul Center Mini) and the fantastic programs and skills that have been developed. Stay tuned!

Soul Center Friendship Circle

The History of Farber Soul Center’s Creation and Inspiration

“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 Soul 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 Soul 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 Soul 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


Renderings of the proposed upgrade to Weinberg Village that would include a restaurant.

The Friendship Circle directors were discussing the idea to build a restaurant like the Bozeman restaurants they’ve visited, and even 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.

william and audrey farber

Pictured: William and Audrey Farber, the generous donors and namesake of the Farber Soul Center.

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.

The future home of the Farber Soul Center at the time of purchase.

The future home of the Farber Soul Center at the time of purchase.


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 Soul 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 Soul Studio and Farber Soul 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 Soul 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 Soul Center. The Farber Soul 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 which was fitted by shower regrouting melbourne took place in the location of the new Soul 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 Soul Center will focus on the the ongoing construction in the Farber Soul Center and the future of the planned programs and facilities. Stay tuned!

Soul Center Mini

Big Hearts at Soul Center Mini

As construction continues on the future site of the Farber Soul Center, a new  temporary location has been opened to provide opportunities for young adults with special needs.

The “Soul Center Mini”, provides an exciting preview for the future. Only a fraction of the size of what the completed Farber Soul Center will be, every inch of the space is utilized for artful purpose. From weaving to printmaking, painting to graphic design, there is truly something for every artist to showcase their talent.

Upon entering Soul Center Mini, one cannot help but feel its impact. Entry walls display beautiful artwork, setting the stage for the potential and possibility beyond them. Instructors Carolyn Morris and Brian Kavanaugh have designed a space that provides opportunity and encourages collaboration. Carolyn, a gifted fiber artist, notes, “the way Brian’s arranged the space, the openness of it…it’s creating a sense of community. The people who are weaving are talking to the people who are making clay, inspiring joint projects and togetherness.”


Instructor Carolyn Morris leads artists in a weaving lesson.

Not only are the young adults instructed in a variety of media and encouraged to venture outside their comfort zones, they are educated on the responsibilities of a workplace. “We will be teaching specific skills to strengthen a person’s overall experience and resume…the scenarios that go along with having a job such as recording ones arrival and departure time, and how to handle social situations inherent to a work environment”, says Brian.

Additionally, every aspect that goes into a finished piece of art is attended to; each step treated as a learning opportunity. Artists have a hand in tasks such as stretching their canvases, installing their work, and cataloguing each piece, just to name a few.


Carolyn Morris and artist Devorah Newman weave a scarf.

Introducing Brian Kavanaugh

For Brian, his level of comfort working with special needs comes with experience. Graduating with a BFA, he went on to obtain a graduate degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He joins the Friendship Circle from Autism Services in Buffalo, New York where he worked in a similar center for the arts. As an artist himself, any chance to make a mark on the community in a tangible way made all the difference for him. He’s seeking to do the same for the individuals at the Soul Center.


Instructor Brian Kavanaugh hangs a tapestry woven at the Center.

Creating Works of Art Based on Personality

The level of enjoyment and quality of the work being created is directly correlated with the approach to instruction. Each artist’s background is carefully considered to determine where they might excel. For artist Saadia, the subject matter is much more important than the materials being used. Where as artist Aislinn’s interests lie in the process of a piece and the sensations of the material. Incorporation of these unique interests when working with the artists is what’s taking their abilities to the next level and always amounts to something beautiful.


Artist Saadia Grossbard composes a collage.

Excellence at Work

Though the wonderful guidance being offered at the Center is undeniable, nothing compares to when an artist takes charge of their direction. When asked about the most rewarding aspect of the day, Brian replied, “the moment where they, the artists, start to contemplate what the next move should be instead of other people telling them what to do, when they make the next decision. It’s so empowering for them.”


Artist Aislinn Wendrow contemplates her painting.

The Soul Center Mini has only been up and running for a short time, but the participating artists are finding a voice there. Each masterpiece represents the individuality and spirit of its creator, the very essence of art itself. The Center is paving the way for the Friendship Circle to expand its mission into the lives of young adults with special needs and the heart of the mission can be found there too.

Art & Soul Event Helps to Build New Farber Soul Center

Upon entering the site for the future Farber Soul Center on Wednesday November 12th, women from the local community were called to get a little dirt on their heels.

The new facility, located on the corner of Drake and Walnut Lake roads at 5586 Drake Road in West Bloomfield will expand Friendship Circle’s programs into the lives of adults with special needs through the culinary, digital, and traditional arts. As guests walked into the future culinary center they were greeted by a few of Farber Soul Center’s future artists whose faces were filled with excitement as they introduced themselves and were presented with the opportunity to discuss their passions.

The floors were worn, the walls were lined with future construction plans, blueprints were projected, and the soon-to-be studios displayed visuals and films of the creativity they will soon hold. But amongst the construction, murmurs of the beauty were exchanged amongst guests.

Blueprints and Gifts

A blueprint of the Farber Soul Center is projected on the wall showing the gifts made to furnish the soul center.

“It really is going to be something fabulous, and even now look how fabulous everything is! Amongst all of this construction there is the beautiful event decorations, the ambiance is breathtaking.” Said Cookie Lachover.

The 36 women on the committee for the Farber Soul Center provided tours for the 470 women that were in attendance. After the tours the women were given the opportunity to engage with a few artists, ask questions, and learn as much about the center as possible. Stephanie Harris was able to show off her pottery skills as well as her social interaction with the community while Ben Nadis sampled out challah bread he had made that morning.

Ben Nadis Distributes Challah at the Art & Soul Event

“It’s so amazing what’s happening this evening,” said Nanci Farber. “The event is really generating a conversation with the women and families of children with specila needs from the local community. The artists and inspired individuals who will be working in this space have been given such a unique opportunity tonight. To be able to share what they love in a setting where they know they are appreciated. The event really embraces what Farber Soul Center is and will become.”

The Farber Soul Center has transformed from a need, to an idea and a visual concept, to a board of passionate committee members and donors, the Farber family donated a matching gift of 2.1 million, who put together the first steps to funding the center.

“We are off to a fantastic start,” Nanci Farber began, as the women gathered in the future community hall space. “And I just want to say how inspired I am by the committee and by everyone in this room. The commitment and the support that is here tonight is so immaculate and inspiring. I can’t begin to thank you enough for making this idea, this dream, move towards becoming a reality.”

Nanci Farber

As Nanci finished her speech she turned to the wall behind her and with giant strokes, began painting the largest blank canvas in the room. As the paint hit the white empty space a building emerged from beneath the paint, beneath the passion. With each donation, more canvases were painted and revealed and by the end of the evening the Farber Soul Center had become a reality.

How you can get involved


We need your help to furnish the Farber Soul Center. As a token of our appreciation you can receive some amazing crafts made by artists with special needs. Donate here


Roll up your sleeves and donate your time and your talents. Friendship Circle has always had a strong group of volunteers through the Morrie & Sybil Fenkell Volunteer Club and the Farber Soul Center will be no Different. Tell us if you would like to volunteer here.

Get Involved

If you have an adult child with special needs let us know that you are interested in future programming for your child.

Get Regular Updates

We will provide regular updates about the construction and renovation process. If you would like to receive those updates click here.