Tag Archives: Friendship Circle

Volunteer Recognition Event

Game Changers: A Volunteer Recognition Event Recap

On Monday, May 23, the Friendship Circle and its members gathered at the Berman Theater in the Jewish Community Center, in West Bloomfield, Michigan, to honor the countless volunteers who have given their time over the last year.

The event was attended by well over four hundred people, including families, volunteers, local community members, and Friendship Circle supporters. Opening remarks were given by Friendship Circle parent Valerie Lane, who reflected on her experiences being the mother of a daughter with special needs.

Friendship Circle parent and opening speaker Valerie Lane.

The theme of the event was “Game Changers”… how the Friendship Circle and its staff have changed the status quo for people with special needs, giving them new opportunities, and the respect they deserve.

Rabbi Yarden Blumstein.

Teen Volunteer Coordinator Rabbi Yarden Blumstein.

Rabbi Yarden Blumstein, Teen Volunteer Coordinator, spoke next. He discussed how the idea of game changers relates to the Biblical tale of the receiving of the Torah, how the Israelites had to wait fifty days to finally receive it. People with special needs have had to wait years to be respected by the world at large, and the Friendship Circle has helped to bring that day closer to the present.

Friendship Circle co-founder Rabbi Levi Shemtov.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, co-founder of the organization, spoke about the founding of Friendship Circle twenty-one years ago. Originally, he and his wife, fellow co-founder Bassie Shemtov, personally drove teen volunteers to the homes of children with special needs. The waiting list to become a volunteer grew over time, and by 2005, they had a space of their own where volunteers and their matched “friends” could interact with one another.

Honored teen volunteers who had logged 50, 100, 150, 200 or more hours at Friendship Circle.

Teen Volunteer Presidents being recognized at the event.

Teen volunteers were honored based on the number of hours they had put in with Friendship Circle, as well as male and female Presidents of the Volunteer Club.

Honoring Ed Krass

Ed Krass, an adult volunteer was given a special honor, including a short film about his life, and the gift of a monogrammed sports jacket reading “Coach Ed”. Ed has been the sports instructor for the Friendship Circle since 2010, following a lengthy career in sports education in public schools. He spoke about how, after retirement from education, he was unsure where his life would go. He found a new purpose in the Friendship Circle, and continuing to work with kids.

Remembering Alex Bruni

The night was not without tears shed. Last year, Alex Bruni, a long-time Friendship Circle volunteer with aspirations of attending medical school passed away. His sister spoke of his kindness, his “contagious smile”, and his generosity.

Friendship Circle co-founder Bassie Shemtov then recalled how, years ago, Alex had been paired with Danny, a friend who had had difficulty connecting with his volunteers. However, when paired with Alex, Bassie remembers how he began to grow and develop under Alex’s guidance. After Alex’s death, Bassie brought Danny to the Friendship Circle to add his touch to a plaque honoring his and Alex’s friendship, and immediately Danny recalled his favorite volunteer.

brian kavanaugh - IMG_6860

Friendship Circle. co-founder Bassie Shemtov and the Bruni family.

Bassie presented the Bruni family with a memorial plaque to be placed in a table at the Friendship Circle’s new Soul Cafe.

Gamechanger Anthony Ianni

The event ended with a speech from the only person with autism to ever play Division I college basketball, Anthony Ianni, an alumnus of Michigan State University and motivational speaker.

brian kavanaugh - IMG_6894

Former Big Ten basketball player and motivational speaker Anthony Ianni.

He spoke of his experiences growing up having autism, and how, as a child, no one believed he would amount to anything. He attended Grand Valley State University for two years, before accepting a scholarship to play basketball at MSU. He now travels the country speaking about his life.

soul cafe training

Friendship Circle’s Farber Friendship Center Offers Employment to Individuals with Special Needs

As we get closer to the official opening of the Farber Friendship Center, Friendship Circle was able to begin putting our plan in place for one of the unique offerings of the new facility: employment for individuals with special needs.

For the shifts that will run the new Soul Cafe, the aim was for 40% of the staff positions to be filled with persons with special needs. During the week of March 7, Friendship Circle began handing out job offers to individuals that interviewed for the positions and were chosen to work at the Soul Café.

As we handed out offer letters to current staff members at Milk & Honey Kosher Catering, the organization that will run the day-to-day operations at Soul Cafe, the excitement was infectious.

The persons that received offer letters were filled with excitement at the opportunity to gain employment and continue to be involved with Friendship Circle and the Farber Friendship Center.

Watch Ben learn that he is one of the first employees of Friendship Circle’s Soul Cafe. The Soul Café will provide a mouthwatering kosher menu featuring gourmet soups, salads and sandwiches in a warm and relaxed environment. The café will teach adults with #specialneeds the skills of food prep, cooking, hosting and serving. In addition, the Soul Café will provide life skills opportunities for the 2,500 students from across Metro Detroit who participate annually in Friendship Circle’s Lessons For Life program. http://friendshipcircle.org/soul

Posted by Friendship Circle of Michigan on Tuesday, March 15, 2016

In their positions of employment, adults with special needs will learn the necessary skills to host, serve, prepare and cook food, interact with customers, take meal orders and all other elements of the food service industry.

The Soul Café will provide a mouthwatering kosher menu featuring gourmet soups, salads and sandwiches in a warm and relaxed environment. The café will teach adults with ‪‎special needs‬ the skills of food prep, cooking, hosting and serving.

In addition, the Soul Café will provide life skills opportunities for the 2,500 students from across Metro Detroit who participate annually in Friendship Circle’s Lessons For Life program.

“The Soul Cafe Work Training program is a great way for individuals of all abilities to have the confidence and tools to hold a job while feeling a purpose to succeed far beyond their own expectations. With the SCWT program, all employees at the Soul Cafe have the opportunity to work in an environment that highlights inclusion while being able to focus on strengths and not hide their disabilities. It’s an environment that accepts an employee for who he is while helping form the individual’s strengths in the workplace and assisting the person to get to the next level and find a job in the typical world gain confidence and skills while benefitting from inclusion with real world purposes.” – Farber Friendship Center’s Program Director Jordan Shifman

Throughout the training, candidates will learn about proper restaurant etiquette and techniques, customer service and food prep, punctuality, scheduling, dress codes, rules of conduct, performance reviews and much more.

Employees will also receive training from vendors like Starbucks that will come in and train baristas to work behind the counter!

Training in progress at the Soul Cafe! Watch Sam master the Starbucks Coffee machine in the video below. Getting hungry? The Soul Cafe will be open for business very, very soon! Like the Soul Cafe on Facebook to get the latest updates. https://www.facebook.com/FCSoulCafe/

Posted by Friendship Circle of Michigan on Sunday, March 27, 2016

shabbat at the spa 2016

Shabbat at the Spa 2016: Mom’s Weekend Getaway

On the weekend of March 4, 2016, 45 mothers of children with special needs went on a weekend getaway of inspiration, respite and pampering during the third annual Shabbat at the Spa weekend, a special getaway weekend that all mothers deserve during the year.

Recharge The Batteries

The purpose of the Shabbat at the Spa weekend is for women to escape the stress of daily life and regenerate their minds, bodies and spirits to align themselves once again and return to their families with batteries recharged and a renewed positive outlook on the future. Without this kind of escape, the struggles of daily family life can wear mothers down, which can weaken the family unit.

“Moms come from all different walks of life, ages of children, kids with different types of challenges, but there’s an end of the line bond that they all share in that no matter where they come from that they share something so uncommon that they understand each other’s plight. The moms in this group just ‘get it’ whereas the rest of the community may not.” – Sarah Schectman, Family Coordinator at Friendship Circle of Michigan and hostess of Shabbat at the Spa.

shabbat at the spa 2016

Sponsored by a grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation and the Applebaum Family Compass Fund, this year’s weekend took the moms to Sawmill Creek resort near Sandusky, Ohio and offered respite and workshops for mothers of children with special needs.

Guest Speakers

This year’s special guest speakers were Goldie Plotkin and Raizy Metzger.

Goldie Plotkin is a co-founder of Chabad Center in Markham, Ontario, and is also the director of Torah Tots Pre-School and also runs a learning program in Toronto called Women and Wisdom. As a mother of eight children (one which has special needs), Plotkin offers a unique skill set and experience to the Friendship Circle mothers that attended the weekend getaway.

Raizy Metzger is a co-director of Chabad center and Chabad preschool for local family in New York and teaches classes for women and other educational initiatives.

The two guest speakers participated fully in the weekend while also hosting workshops and talks as well.

The Weekend Rundown

Spa services were offered throughout the day on Friday, programming started at 4pm on Friday afternoon and went through to Sunday afternoon.

Planned activities included workshops that covered getting to know yourself, happiness, soul searching, relationship discussions, meditation, round table discussions, sharing personal experiences and learning love languages within relationships.

The weekend offered a great combination of moms connecting with other moms, adding the social component of networking to their daily lives and moms getting an opportunity to relax, get some respite and be pampered. There are three divisions planned for the weekend: social, respite and inspiration from guest speakers, all of which allows moms to “refill the tank” to keep the boost through the year.

The Three-Pronged Approach

Inspiration: Refilling The Tank

From inspirational point of view: refilling the tank, A lot of workshops focus on self-discovery and being in tune with souls and who we are, also understanding our children better with a big focus on the siblings of children with special needs. Messages were also about relationships with other people like marriage, children and self. There was a lot of talk about dealing with people outside who don’t understand and how to educate the community and how to deal with the insensitivity and ignorance of the surrounding community. Focus was also given to prayer and mindfulness.

Pampering And Respite

Every mom was given complimentary spa service on Friday with a choice of massage, facial or manicure. A four-course gourmet dinner focusing on the “power of women in the home” consisted of custom wooden chargers with word collages with words that their families used to describe them. Each mom received a welcome package in their hotel rooms that contained their favorite snacks based on suggestions from their family members.

shabbat chargers 2016

Every time moms visited their hotel rooms, there were gifts waiting to be given to them as well. “Paint your pop art” was an activity that contained a family photo that was painted in a “pop-art” style. Each meal was catered and set up beautifully by kosher caterer Milk & Honey. Breakfast in bed was also served on Saturday morning.



Lots of opportunity was provided this year for moms to share during round table discussions. “TEN talks” were hosted by moms with older children with special needs sharing experiences dealing with what they’ve learned and how to share their inspiration with the other moms.

The end of the weekend culminated with a circle where everyone shared what inspired them over the weekend and how the new relationships developed gave a greater sense of belonging in the special needs community. Many of the moms shared how they gained inspiration from their peer moms and not just the guest speakers organized for the event.


lessons for life

Dresner Foundation Awards Grant Towards Friendship Circle’s Pilot Lessons For Life 2.0 Program

West Bloomfield, Michigan – [1/31/16] – The Dresner Foundation has awarded its support to Friendship Circle’s Lessons For Life 2.0 program in the amount of $50,000 for the development of the program’s sustainability and metrics.

Lessons For Life (L4L) is a life skills program that utilizes the Friendship Circle’s unique Weinberg Village that provides students with special needs extensive life skills learning opportunities. This program fills the gap between classroom learning and real-world experience.

Since the 2005 opening of Friendship Circle’s Farber Kaufman Lifetown on Meer Family Friendship Center, 10,000 students from 200 schools and 50 school districts have participated in the L4L program. Lessons For Life 2.0 (LFL 2.0) is a more robust version of L4L, which includes the creation of individualized lessons for each student directed to his or her IEP, tracking of progress of each individual student and reporting against their predetermined goals. The predetermined goals will measure each student’s growth in key areas of the national Common Core State Standards Initiative, such as speaking, listening, math and language skills while participating in the program.

A student participating in the Lessons For Life program withdrawing money from the bank in Weinberg Village.“By tracking the progress of students, L4L 2.0 will provide data on the success of the program, thus making the program more sustainable, said Kevin Furlong, CEO of Dresner Foundation. “If the pilot is successful, then Friendship Circle can provide outcome evidence to seek additional funding.”


Nancy Sinelli, Educational Director of the Lessons For Life program, says “I am very excited that Lessons for Life 2.0 will be getting off the ground. It will provide not only the participating teachers but LFL staff as well with much-needed data to enhance our program. We will also be able to provide learning opportunities to students in schools with funding limitations.”

About Friendship Circle:

Friendship Circle is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in West Bloomfield, Michigan that provides annual assistance and support to 2,700 individuals with special needs and their families through recreational, social, educational and vocational programming. Since 1994, our programming has enabled individuals with special needs to face the challenges of everyday living by preparing them with the skills necessary to become participating members of their communities.

Today, Friendship Circle provides services to more than 300 children and their families who attend one of our 30+ weekly programs and to 2,400 children from special education classrooms through our Lessons for Life program each year.

About the Dresner Foundation:dresner logo

Established by Joseph and Vera Dresner, the Dresner Foundation is an independent private organization dedicated to positive change through grants focused on health, youth, and animal welfare. The Dresner Foundation’s goal is to provide organizations the necessary resources so they can continue offering services to those most in need.

Dresner Foundation and Friendship Circle:

The Dresner Foundation has also generously supported initial operating costs of Friendship Circle’s new Farber Soul Center Program as well as contributed $1 Million towards Friendship Circle’s endowment. The art studio inside the Farber Soul Center will be named the Dresner Soul Studio in honor of the Dresner Foundation founders Joseph and Vera Dresner.

The Top Life Skills Learned at Friendship Circle’s Lessons For Life

From the introduction to the village: “Your job is to explore and make choices. Remember: You may not be able to do everything. Be careful how you spend your money.”

Lessons For Life is a groundbreaking life skills program that takes places inside Friendship Circle’s Weinberg Village, the lifelike simulated city complete with shops, streets with traffic lights, a movie theater, doctor’s office, park and more. The Lessons For Life program fills the gap between classroom learning and real-world experience.

Inside Weinberg Village

In this experience, the students are taught nine essential life skills: Money management, following directions, problem solving, communication, time management, socialization, budgeting, safety and employment.

All of the storefronts and businesses in the village offer the opportunity to practice social and communication skills; each is housed with one or more adult volunteers serving as the establishment’s employee and the students serve as patrons to each.

Adult volunteers assume the role of the store or office in the village and treat the students like actual customers. “Hello, how can I help you?” each student is asked when they enter the establishment, allowing students the opportunity to learn for themselves how to interact in these real-world situations in order to get what they want.

“This is not just a field trip, this is an educational experience,” says Nancy Sinelli, Educational Director of Lessons For Life. “The goal is not to have fun, the goal is to learn something here. The fun comes after.”

There are nine essential life skills that are learned in the Lessons For Life program, which include money management, following directions, problems solving, communication, time management, socialization, budgeting, safety and employment. Below is an overview of each skill:

1. Money Management

lessons for life budget

Students can learn money management through Lessons For Life by having to make choices about what activities they want to participate in.

Don’t spend it all in one place! Part of the experience at Weinberg Village involves a trip to the Huntington Bank located in the facility to withdraw the $12.00 allotted to each student for their visit. The students then use these funds throughout the village and have to stay conscious of their spending habits to make their money last for the duration of their visit because once they run out, that’s it!

Available through: Friendship Café, Sav-On Drugs, Ice cream stand, Fringe Too Salon, Huntington Bank, Movie Theater, Park & bike rental.

2. Following Directions

lessons for life traffic

An example of why following directions is important: in Weinberg Village, if the crosswalks and traffic lights are not obeyed, a ticket will be issued by the police officer!

In the village (just like in the real world), there are streets, traffic lights, wait lines and appointments. In order for everyone to be served properly, students must wait their turn in line, be patient and prepare themselves for when it’s their turn. If they cross the street while the sign says “Don’t Walk” or run a red traffic light on their bike, there is a police officer on site that will give them a citation.

Available through: Friendship Street, Park & bike rental.

3. Problem Solving

lessons for life problem solving

Problem solving comes in play a lot at Weinberg Village, usually when students are assessing what activity they would like to do next while checking how much money is left in their wallet.

In the Lessons For Life program, students are given the tools to make choices and use their discretion and problem solving skills to enhance the consumer experience. Throughout the visit to the village, the students have to make decisions on how to appropriate funds and manage their shopping and appointments while leaving enough money to spend during the trip. Typical assessments the students must make involve money management & budgeting and time management in order to gain the most during their visit.

Available through any venue that takes money.

4. Communication

lessons for life communication

Communication is very important, especially when visiting important places like the doctor or dentist office.

The first question students are asked any time they enter a venue: “Hello, how can I help you?” The importance here is not to anticipate the student’s wants, but to embody the customer experience by eliciting responses from the customer about what it is they are looking for. In the real world, not all customer service experiences are helpful (or even pleasant) but in the village, students are encouraged to communicate with the store employee instead of being spoken for.

Available at every venue in Weinberg Village.

5. Time Management

lessons for life time management

Rentals last 10 minutes, appointments must be made, all areas where time management is important!

The part of the trip that incorporates the village usually lasts about an hour and a half to two hours. During that time, students must anticipate the length of time they have to participate in all the store fronts and rentals. (Example: movie theater showings usually last about 20-25 minutes, bike rentals last for 10 minutes, computers in the library are rented for 15 minutes, doctor & dentist visits last 5-10 minutes, salon offers massages starting at 5 minutes and appointments go up to 15 minutes for manicures/hair).

Available through the entire Weinberg Village.

6. Socialization

lessons for life socialization

Socialization is important both with peers and with new people; Lessons For Life offers both.

Aside from socializing with their classmates, students interact with the adult volunteers in the store fronts/offices like they would in the real world and on the occasion that a smaller group of students is scheduled to visit the village, there may be the opportunity to bring in several school programs or classes at the same time; thus allowing the students to interact with other individuals with special needs that are outside of their usual social circle from school and interact with other peers their age that are also strangers.

Available through all venues in Weinberg Village.

7. Budgeting

lessons for life budgeting

A student participant checks his wallet to see how much money he has left for the next activity.

The $12.00 isn’t just a random number, it’s intentional so that while the funds encompass a lot of options, it does not give students the opportunity to try everything, forcing them to plan ahead for their visit to the village and prioritize their activities for the trip. If a student runs out of money during their visit, that is the end-all be all; however, this is where generosity is showcased: other students have shown their compassion by sharing their remaining funds with the student, but not without an important lesson learned. Most students that experience a rapid evaporation of their funds at the village view it as a learning lesson to better budget their money on the next trip.

Available through the entire Weinberg Village.

8. Safety

lessons for life safety

Obeying the traffic lights is just as important for your safety as it is for everyone else!

Friendship Street is where students learn when and where to cross to avoid getting a traffic ticket, students also learn to obey the traffic lights while riding the bikes available. There is a village police officer on site to administer citations when necessary, since students must learn to be aware of their surrounds at all times and to stop, look and listen before they step off the sidewalk and into the street.

Available through: Friendship Street, Park & bike rental.

9. Employment

lessons for life employment

One student has the opportunity to get put to work in the pet shop.

In the Lessons For Life program, students are given the opportunity to partake in job exploration, with a specific curriculum designed around finding the job they would like and the proper questions to ask when inquiring about a position. During this process, the students will answer questionnaires to help narrow down the positions offered, fill out applications for the positions they like and on subsequent visits, they will interview at their chosen storefronts in the village that could eventually lead to volunteer opportunities with those businesses in future visits during the Lessons For Life program.

Available through most venues in Weinberg Village.

For more information about Friendship Circle’s Lessons For Life program, please click here.

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 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.

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 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!

oak park teen cooking

Friendship Circle Launches Creative Movement and Cooking Programs in Oak Park

Kids need the ability to express themselves and get moving, and that’s what Friendship Circle’s expanding programs were designed to offer. Now that programs have extended to new areas in Metro Detroit, there are more opportunities for kids to get moving and develop new skills.

Over the past few years, Friendship Circle has received many requests to provide programs in the Huntington Woods/Oak Park area. Thanks to a grant from The Jewish Fund, three new programs were launched with the hope is that with the success of these programs, we will be able to provide more programs in upcoming years.

Life Skills in Oak Park

As our children with special needs become young adults, it’s necessary for them to learn how to release their excitement and also develop skill sets that they can recreate at home on their own. What’s offered now in Oak Park serves that very purpose through Friendship Circle’s Creative Movement and Teen Cooking programs, where kids can focus on fitness and exercise, express themselves creatively, learn basics of cooking and kitchen safety and learn simple dishes to make at home.

Monday, December 14, 2015 celebrated the finale events from the first sessions for Friendship Circle of Michigan’s Creative Movement and Teen Cooking programs.

The seven-week sessions were hosted on Monday evenings between 5-7pm at Aish Hatorah in Oak Park and offered one-on-one attention with the dedicated team of Friendship Circle volunteers.

Creative Movement

The Creative Movement program offers entry to all ages and abilities with a focus on fitness and exercise as well as offering room for creative expression. For the finale event, the teens put on a dramatic play with volunteers as well as a musical number that was performed at the beginning and end of the performance.

oak park creative movement

Teens and volunteers performing “The Pizza Song” at Oak Park’s Creative Movement finale performance.

Oak Park creative movement

Parents and teens watching the photo presentation from the first session of Creative Movement in Oak Park.

Oak Park creative movement

Teens and volunteers performing their dramatic performance during the finale event of Oak Park’s first Creative Movement session.

After the performance, parents, teens and volunteers were invited to dine together by assembling salads, making sushi and after dinner, decorating holiday cookies.

One parent, John Husband, told us that his daughter Sophia had an absolute blast participating in this program and would get very excited any time the program was mentioned in their household.

Husband went on to say that “[the] volunteers were awesome and the play was so cool. We would definitely enroll Sophia in this class again. In fact, we were so impressed with the volunteers that we will be enrolling Sophia in the Drums class starting in January.”

Teen Cooking

The Teen Cooking program is open to teens ages 12 and up and offers participants the opportunity to master simple dishes to recreate at home while also helping with the development of social skills, cooking techniques and learning kitchen safety. The purpose of learning these skills is to help gain independence and confidence in the kitchen.

Oak park teen cooking

The salad bar that teens prepared for the dinner following the Creative Movement performance.

Oak Park teen cooking

The cookie decorating station at Oak Park’s Teen Cooking finale event.

Oak Park teen cooking

Teens and their families assembling salads at the Oak Park Teen Cooking finale event dinner.

Oak Park teen cooking

The sushi-making station at the Oak Park Teen Cooking finale event dinner.

Other programs that are offered in the Oak Park area include:

Sunday Funday, open to ages 4-12 for 90 minutes, allowing children to gain the group experience while still receiving one-on-one attention during activities, which include sports, music and movement instruction, arts & crafts, all while offering respite for the parents. Sunday Funday is held at the Chaya Mushkah High School in the Beth Shalom building in Oak Park.

About The Jewish Fund

The Jewish Fund was established in 1997 from the sale proceeds of Sinai Hospital to the Detroit Medical Center. Sinai Hospital was a Jewish community funded facility that grew into one of metropolitan Detroit’s top health care institutions. As a legacy of Sinai Hospital, The Jewish Fund continues the tradition of assuring excellent and compassionate care for those in need in Metropolitan Detroit by awarding grants to help vulnerable individuals improve their health and human condition.

To learn more about the programs that Friendship Circle offers in your area, please click here.

Nature, Science and Dinosaurs: A Recap of Winter Camp 2015

Nature, Science and Dinosaurs: A Recap of Friendship Circle Winter Camp 2015

Each year, Friendship Circle hosts its annual winter camp, which provides children and teens with special needs a week full of fun and educational trips around the Metro Detroit area.
During this week, participants and their teen volunteers spend time together outside of the Friendship Circle walls and build friendships while participating in these fun-filled activities.
Check out the photo recap of winter camp 2015.

Sunday, December 20: Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center

winter camp: detroit outdoor adventure center

With its “Up North, Downtown” slogan, the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center offers a plethora of interactive activities the kids can participate in. Features include an indoor nature center with nature trail and bridge, simulated outdoor activities (such as biking, fishing, jet-skiing, kayaking), and nature projects, all while learning about Michigan’s sustainability efforts with our fresh water sources and natural wildlife.

Monday, December 21: Castaway Play Café

winter camp: castaway play cafe

Located in Howell, Michigan, Castaway Play Café is an entertainment and activity center for kids of all ages and their families. During this visit, participants were able to enjoy climbing structures, bounce houses and blow-up slides and laser tag. Castaway Play Café was a great space for campers to be active and release some winter break energy.

Tuesday, December 22: Sky Zone Trampoline Park

winter camp: sky zone trampoline park

Always a highlight of winter camp, Skyzone, the world’s first indoor trampoline park provided a fun and a great workout. With a number of trampolines and a 10,000-cube foam pit.

Wednesday, December 23: Impression 5 Science Center

winter camp: impression 5 science center

Fully ADA compliant and accessible, Impression 5 Science Center facilitates scientific exploration through hands-on exhibits and educational programming. During this visit, Friendship Circle group was able to experience the facility’s exhibits that included trains, dinosaurs, lights, bubbles, health & basic hygiene and lights and also learn more about the moon, sun, waves, plants and animals.

Thursday, December 24: Pump It Up

winter camp 2015: pump it up

A day of jumping! Pump It Up offers imaginative, uninterrupted free play in its inflatable paradise that allows kids to play to their heart’s content.  10 different blowups and and slides kept our campers on the move throught the day.

More Great Pictures from Winter Camp 2016

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.

A Gym of Memories: The Legacy of the Elkus Family

On a consistent basis, the Florene Elkus & Edward Elkus Memorial Gym is filled with boisterous laughter, the sounds from rubber soles on athletic shoes hitting the waxed wooden floors and the wide array of activities that take place within the well-known walls.

With the coveted gym comes a story that not many may be familiar with. Although there are many who have donated their time and funds to the Friendship Circle, not all of them have as personal of a connection as Philip and Estelle Elkus: the couple who contributed the gym we have all grown to love.


Named in memory of their siblings, Florene and Edward, the Elkus’ donated the gym in hopes that many would benefit and gain great joy from the athletic addition.

However, Philip struggled as a child having two siblings with special needs–mainly because of the attention and concern his parents had for Florene and Edward’s wellbeing.

“Growing up, and as an adult–[not] until many, many years later, did I begin to understand the trials my parents went through trying desperately to improve the lives of my sister and brother. As a child, I deeply resented all the attention that went in their direction.”

The vast contrast between the services offered now, versus the lack of services offered in the 1930’s and 1940’s, is astounding to Philip, who recalls how individuals with special needs were shut away in an institution, in order to not be seen.

Florene (left) and Edward (right) Elkus

Florene (left) and Edward (right) Elkus

But to see the many programs and services offered in just one location alone for individuals with special needs was completely different from the social norms that existed when Philip Elkus was younger.

“You have absolutely no idea of how much a Friendship Circle could have enriched their lives, nor how much stress and strain it would have removed from my parents. I now have a much deeper appreciation of [my parents’] life long approach and dream to improve their children’s lives.”

It was seeing firsthand the struggles that his parents faced, when it came to helping his siblings, and learning about how much Friendship Circle could have helped his family, that inspired Philip to support and enhance Friendship Circle’s current facilities.

The Elkus Family: Edward, Florene, Nathan, Harriet, Estelle, Philip (left to right)

The Elkus Family: Edward, Florene, Nathan, Harriet, Estelle, Philip (left to right)

Originally, Philip Elkus had hoped to replicate the Friendship Circle in Los Angeles–which is where his siblings were living–after learning about Friendship Circle and touring the facilities in West Bloomfield several years ago. However, investment circumstances barred that dream in becoming a reality.

Philip and Estelle approached the Shemtovs, wanting to know how they could help make a large impact on Friendship Circle and the individuals they help. Together, they decided on stepping forward and creating what is now known as the Florene Elkus & Edward Elkus Memorial Gym.


“Of all the charities I have ever supported, my wife and I get far more pleasure and “Nachas” from the gym than any other institution. It has made such a wonderful difference to so many and we derive such pleasure seeing it happen.”