(lubavitch.com/LNS) Friendship Circle Ontario coordinators, Chabad's Mrs. Esther Grossbaum and Mrs. Chaya Perman, were recently honored with the distinguished UJA Federation Inclusion Initiative Award.
“What is most gratifying is witnessing children with special needs become volunteers with the Friendship Circle. It is a program that enriches the lives of the families, volunteers and children,” said Master of Ceremonies, Michael Enright.
The Honorable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario presented the award to the honorees,
On behalf of the Friendship Circle, Mrs. Perman thanked the UJA for the honour and remarked, “The fact that we are gathered here on this special evening is testimony to the many changes taking place in our community in matters that concern inclusion and accessibility to all of its members.”
Mrs. Perman used the opportunity to share insights by the Lubavitcher Rebbe that have inspired her and the Friendship Circle in their work with challenged individuals.
“With regard to the Jewish handicapped the Rebbe preferred the term “special” people since it accurately reflects their situation,” said Mrs. Perman
She explained that while they may be handicapped in their mental and intellectual capacity and indeed because of it, every possible emphasis should be placed on the tangible and audio visual aspects of Jewish education, the practice of mitzvot and religious identity. The Rebbe, she said, expressed his own hopes for a change in attitude and even more importantly, in action vis a vis Jewish education and opportunity that is long overdue.
“Although the Rebbe’s words were written many years ago, we need to hear them now, allow them to serve as a catalyst to further our efforts.”
Launched just five years ago, the Friendship Circle which matches teenage volunteers who become friends and mentors to children with special needs, has proven enormously successful. Through weekly home visits and a Sunday Circle, meaningful bonds are established in a way that affects both parties. Indeed over the course of five years some 300 teenagers participated in the program with distinction.
The Friendship Circle, a concept conceived and developed by Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim, today has more than 60 chapters serving communities in the U.S. and beyond.
Stanley Kugelmass, who made the presentations said, “The UJA is dedicated to bring the importance of physical and social inclusion to the attention of the Jewish community. Our vision is a more inclusive Jewish community where people with special needs are able to fully participate in educational, spiritual, communal, social and recreational activities.
"We laud the individuals and organizations that have accomplished this and have made inroads in this matter and we are committed to further this endeavour.”