Celebrating friendship: Volunteers honored at recent gala. PHOTO / Special to the AJT

Celebrating friendship: Volunteers honored at recent gala. PHOTO / Special to the AJT

SPECIAL FOR THE AJT //

The pressure of final exams and summer planning did not stop more than 100 people from turning out on May 19 to pay tribute to a group of 50 unique teenagers. As volunteers at the Friendship Circle – an organization that brings friendship and love to children with special needs and their families – these young people choose to make a difference when they could be shopping, studying or relaxing in their hours away from school.

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Every week, Friendship Circle representatives visit children at their home for hours of fun. The volunteers also get together for group programming and create bonds of friendship that last a lifetime. The recent Recognition Event was a time for the organization and the community to pause and thank the volunteers for their selfless service.

Families of the volunteers joined families of Friendship Circle participants to watch with pride as each volunteer was presented with an award and a gift, just a small token of appreciation for the lives they change and the smiles they create. Over pasta, salad, bagels, soufflé and pancakes, guests heard parents of special-needs children describe the tremendous impact the volunteers make on their lives.

Next, Yifat Kadosh, a Circle volunteer and Yeshiva Atlanta senior, shared her experiences as a friend to 4-year-old David.

“By volunteering in the special needs community, I’ve understood what it means to truly accept everyone for who they are,” Kadosh said. “Our differences should bring us all together, and we should learn from one another.”

Rabbi Yossi New, Director of Chabad of Georgia, also delivered an address and made a similar point.

Chaim, the Hebrew word for life, is in fact plural,” the rabbi explained. “The lesson for us is that true ‘life’ is when your life impacts someone else’s.”

The words of both Kadosh and New were echoed in a moving video that depicted the impact of the Friendship Circle on not only the individuals with special needs and their families, but the volunteers themselves. Then, the mother of David, Belinda*, shared with the audience what it was like to have an autistic child and how the Friendship Circle volunteers brought joy and laughter to an otherwise stressful schedule.

According to Belinda, it was not just David who benefitted from the volunteers’ love and time.

“For the first couple of months that David was in the Friendship Circle, all I remember is falling into bed the minute he and his new friends went outside,” she said with a smile. “It sounds funny, but that one hour of rest was really the beginning of my recovery. I can’t thank you guys enough for spending your time with David this year, and I hope you’ll be part of our lives for a long time to come. A year later, I’m seeing a lot more of David’s smile.”

Finally, director of the Friendship Circle Rickelle New made her remarks to the volunteers at the brunch, commending them for being “fiery, committed, loving and community-conscience individuals who have the power in their hands to make a difference.”

“Most impressively, they are not waiting to be older to make the difference,” she said. “They are doing it now.”

For more info, visit fcatlanta.org or call (404) 423-3371. Asterisk denotes a name changed at request of the individual. For a full list of honored volunteers, see atljewishtimes.com.

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