“We all grow up and have a dream that we will get married and have children. We just take it for granted that our children will be normal and healthy. Unfortunately, for some of us, that dream doesn’t always come true.”
These are the words of a mother of an autistic child in West Bloomfield, Michigan. And it is for her and thousands like her that The Friendship Circle, which pairs special needs children with teenage volunteers, was formed in 1995 by Chabad Rebbetzin Bassie Shemtov (The Friendship Circle).
What began as a small local project almost eight years ago, to help a handful of special children, has turned into a full time avocation for Bassie and her husband Rabbi Levi Shemtov and now serves over 150 children with a staff of 350 teen volunteers.
The Shemtovs could not foresee that this initial “helping hands” project would capture the imagination of so many people and metamorphose into a vital and thriving organization. The Friendship Circle has branched out and taken root in several other cities and now includes thousands of special children and equally special volunteers who have given new meaning to the word “teenager.”
In a dream come true for the Michigan headquarters of The Friendship Circle, a ground-breaking ceremony was held on November 3rd, for a six-acre permanent site to be known as the Meer Family Friendship Circle Campus and the Ferber Kaufman Life Town in West Bloomfield.
The campus will be home to the myriad activities and programs of the Friendship Circle and provide a place where the children, families and volunteers can interact in a safe and loving environment.
The Life Town, part of the proposed 20,000 square foot complex is similar to a movie set. In a “ground-breaking” move, this building will recreate a virtual scale model city street. It will contain a bank, library, movie theatre, laundromat, general store, restaurant and pet shop. Each will have working, fully decorated interiors and volunteers will act as shopkeepers. The real world is a scary place for special needs children and this indoor “life village” will help them learn social and critical skills in a non-threatening and fun setting.
Also included are on-site therapy rooms and lounges for parents and volunteers. The $4.5 million dollar campus is scheduled for completion in September 2004.
Rebbetzin Bassie Shemtov can hardly wait. She says that “this novel campus, being built through the generosity of the Meer, Ferber, Kaufman, Fenkell and other caring families, represents the dawning of a new era for children with special needs in our community.”
More information about the planned campus and about the activities of the Friendship Circle is available on line at friendshipcircle.com.