Upwards of five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, but at least one group came for more than just the scenery. Earlier this month, thirty-six women took time away from work and family commitments for a three-day hike to raise funds for Friendship Circle.
A division of the Shluchim Office, Friendship Circle has chapters in cities across the globe.
Their variety of programs aim to bring happiness and companionship to children and young adults with special needs. Friends at Home has volunteers visit and spend time with the individual in their own home, and Sunday Circle sees volunteers and participants meet up for an hour of fun at their local Friendship Circle center. An important component is the support and respite they offer for the individuals’ parents and siblings. In what can feel like a lonely journey; the raising of a special child, Friendship Circle offers a helping hand.
With a passion for the cause, hikers gathered from cities in the United States, Europe, South America and South Africa. Each had a fundraising goal of $3,500. Some have a family member or friend with special needs, and others liked the idea of hiking for a cause. Lior Eliron, a teacher and a mother of three from Brooklyn, felt that her volunteering aided her classroom instruction: “I teach my kids and students to value each individual. Here I get to put my words into action.”
Guided by professionals, the women spent three days exploring the majestic canyon. They hiked a total of thirty-five miles while carrying twenty pounds of water and supplies. And when the hiking stopped, dialogue started. While camping, they discussed inclusivity and sensitivity, shared experiences, and debated how to best promote disability awareness.
After three days of hiking, they met in Phoenix at Friendship Circle of Arizona for a dinner and award ceremony. Mendel Groner represented the Friendship Circle action team. “You are each a light that shows the world that the bond of friendship knows no bounds,” he relayed. Yaakov, an individual born with special needs, shared his experiences in the program: “The Friendship Circle taught me that I could have friends too, just like my brothers [do].” At sixteen, he has now become a Friendship Circle volunteer himself.
Ceremonies concluded with fellow hiker Leah Deren singing a tribute she had composed for her little sister born with Down Syndrome.
“Most participants had no previous involvement with the work we do, yet they took three days out to better the lives of our children,” says Friendship Circle’s Director of Communications, Binie Harlig.
Together the group has raised close to $120,000 for Friendship Circle chapters around the globe.