Friendship Circle of Atlanta holds its third annual Walk4Friendship March 24. It’s the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser of the year to celebrate friendship and inclusion while raising awareness about its programs for people with special needs.
The half-day, community-wide event at Riverwood High School in Sandy Springs includes an opening ceremony, a walkathon, food, entertainment and carnival activities for all ages.
Affiliated with Chabad of Georgia, Friendship Circle of Atlanta provides social interaction and Jewish educational opportunities for children and adults with special needs such as those with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other physical, emotional and cognitive challenges.
The Atlanta nonprofit serves 90 families, with participants ranging in age from 4 years old to those in their 70s, according to Rickelle New, the organization’s director. To meet the needs of these families, the organization uses 150 volunteers, 100 of whom are teenagers.
Its programming is offered for free or at minimal cost to participants. Activities include a monthly Birthday Club celebration held at different venues, such as bowling, arts and crafts, and mini-golf. A monthly Torah Circle offers a two-hour rotation through four engaging activities such as yoga, dog therapy, and science experiments, always including a session to learn about Jewish identity.
As part of the Friends@Home program, teen volunteers visit children with special needs weekly to provide respite and social interactions. New said that the volunteers often continue visiting for years with the same children, forming close bonds and maintaining friendships.
“Creating these social interactions helps combat loneliness,” New said. This is particularly important for the adult population they serve, who are often more isolated than the younger participants. The organization provides separate activities for adults, such as Shabbat dinners and learning programs.
Friendship Circle started 25 years ago in Detroit and has spread to 95 cities around the world. New worked as a volunteer with Friendship Circle as a teenager in her native Australia, then later served as a program and volunteer coordinator for Friendship Circle of Michigan. Together with her husband, Rabbi Yale New, they started the Atlanta chapter in 2011. He serves as the organization’s executive director.
Friendship Circle of Atlanta’s goal for the Walk4Friendship is to raise $100,000 through donations. New hopes attendance will match or exceed the 600 participants in last year’s walk. Registration remains open and the nonprofit will continue to accept donations and volunteers both online and on the day of the event. Participation is open to the entire community, not just for those with special needs, Rickelle New said.
In addition to fundraising and awareness, New said the Walk4Friendship is a great opportunity to “celebrate our differences. Every individual has something to offer.”
The Walk4Friendship is 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 24 at Riverwood High School, 5900 Heards Drive, Sandy Springs. The event is free, but donations and fundraising are encouraged. Food will be available for purchase. For more information, www.walk4friendshipatlanta.rallybound.org or call 404-423-3371.