Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Get a Friend. Be a Friend at the Friendship Circle

Me with Bassie Shemtov (center), Director of the Friendship Circle

I was reminded of the Value of True Friendship at The Friendship Circle

How would you feel if you had no friends?  Lonely?  Isolated?  Frustrated?  Now how would you feel if you had special needs and had no friends?  Probably all the same emotions - just amplified.  Well, there is a organization that pairs special needs youth with teenage volunteers called The Friendship Circle.

I visited The Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield in June as part of a blogger event. Bloggers from around the metro Detroit area were invited to take a tour of the facilities and learn more about this organization. The Friendship Circle provides assistance and support to the families of children with special needs. The Friendship Circle is housed in the Ferber Kaufman LifeTown building, a 23,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility, which serves as a therapy and activity center and a social meeting place.

The upper level of the Friendship Circle is just amazing. There is a gym, an art studio, a dance and music studio with all kinds of instruments, a playroom with a hammock swing, a calming room, and a wet room. The wet room was the most intriguing room for me since the walls were covered in shaving cream! Bassie, the Director of The Friendship Circle, said that they throw shaving cream fights in the room and then turn on the showers to hose down the kids.  Totally brilliant!  There is also a room for parents to just come and chill while their kids are getting services at Friendship Circle.

Lifetown: Where Kids Learn about Real Life
On the lower level of the Friendship Circle is Lifetown - a simulation of a real town where special needs and non-special needs kids can come to learn life skills in a totally safe environment. I heard of Lifetown many years ago when my own son was diagnosed with a speech impairment. Speech impairments delay other skills so my son needed speech therapy and also help with life skills.

Life skills are so important to all kids today. But can you imagine being the parent of a special needs child and having the added difficulty of teaching your child how to sit still in a movie theater or how to act in a doctor's office or how to be quiet at the library? Lifetown has simulations of all these environments. There is a street with crossing walks (and a police officer). There is a library, a bank, a drug store, a movie theater, a doctor's office, a beauty shop, and a pet store. Kids get money to pay for services from the bank and they have to learn how to keep track of their finances while paying for services and how to act while they are experiencing the services.

Walking in Someone Else's Shoes
Some bloggers had to experience Lifetown while being given an assigned "disability". Some were assigned blindness, others a hearing loss, and some were put in wheel chairs. I missed this part of the tour, but I heard from the other bloggers how frustrating it was to have to get through the town with their new "challenge" and how grateful they felt when the challenge was removed.

The Annoying Kid - now has Real Friends
The most moving part of the day for me was when we all got to met Claire Neugebohr-Kahn. Claire's son Jordon has autism and cannot talk.  Claire shared in a very moving video about how Jordan was treated poorly when he had a meltdown in a family restaurant. At that time Jordan had no friends outside of his immediate family - until the Friendship Circle. Now he has teenage volunteers that come to his house and play with him and are totally excepting of him - just the way he is.  I mean, isn't that the what a true friend does?

Walking for Friendship
As you can tell, The Friendship Circle is doing great things for kids with disabilities and their families, but none of these things can be done without financial support. So on Sunday, September 5, 2010, The Friendship Circle will have their 5th annual fundraiser called Walk4Friendship 2010.

From 12:30-4:00pm, seven thousand Metro-Detroiters will gather in West Bloomfield for a 5k walk. Following the 5k walk, Friendship Circle will host a complementary carnival for all participants at the Applebaum Jewish Community Campus. 100% of funds raised go directly into the programs and services provided by Friendship Circle.

Registration, participation and food are complementary. This event is open to everyall and registration is available online at http://www.walk4friendship.com/. For additional information on Walk4Friendship, you can also contact Bassie Shemtov at 248.788.7878 ext. 212 or Bassie@FriendshipCircle.org.

Now, here are a few photos from my day at Friendship Circle....

Here is Bassie giving us a tour of the art room. The room was so sunny and nice - a great place for young artists to get inspiration.

Yes, that is shaving cream of the walls of the wet room.  Somebody had a great time in that fight.

Here is my son in the calming room.

Here is Bassie and some of the bloggers in front of the library in Lifetown.  Kids learn the life skill of going to the library, sitting quietly, checking out books and returning them on time.

There is even a Pet Store in Lifetown where kids can handle all kinds of animals, including this snake!  Personally, I was smiling to keep from shaking in this photo.

Disclosure: I was given a Friendship Circle goodie bag as part of my tour. Thankfully, they did not give me the snake.

Read what some of the other bloggers had to say about this event and the Friendship Circle:

Luck And The Friendship Circle Of West Bloomfield - Rock and Drool

Friendship Circle: Imprint The World - Homeschooling, Autism, and Stuff

Expanding Circles of Friendship - Michigan Women's Forum

Awareness - Michigan Women's Forum

Friendship Circle provides support for families of children with Special Needs - Oakland County Moms

My Happy Experiences with Trader Joe's and The Friendship Circle - Essential Elements
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