Tag Archives: Nancy Sinelli

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.