Sunday, June 6, 2010

Friendship Circle: Imprint The World

My girls and I have had an interesting Sunday. A fun one! Mommy bloggers were invited to a Friendship Circle event today to help get the word out about a wonderful opportunity for families with children with special needs, and a wonderful place for anyone to volunteer their time or donate $.

Part of today's events included some disability awareness. Not all of the bloggers have a child with a disability. So, we were "given" a "disability" for part of the day, gifted $10, and given the task of navigating Lifetown. We learned a lot about disabilities and we learned a lot about ourselves.

Friendship Circle.


I don't know where to begin to describe either one for you. I can start with the beginning, in the words of one of the founders HERE.
Bassie Shemtov glows with excitement when she talks about Friendship Circle and all of the activities that it provides. You can't help but want to be involved when you hear hear talk about it. Her passion for serving individuals with disabilities and special needs is contagious! She talks about the blessings, many unexpected, that the volunteers receive from stepping out of their comfort zone and becoming a real friend to an individual who falls into a group of folks who often don't have real friendships.

Imagine a whole bunch of teens and adults who welcome your child with a disability with wide-open arms. And imagine a place for them to meet, an incredible building especially made for individuals with unique learning styles and needs, physical needs, where those individuals are respected and loved for who they are, in a place where they may play, grow in friendship, learn life skills, take classes (like tap dancing or music), for starters.
The Shemtovs' see the whole person and not just the disability, they rejoice in who each person is as an individual, and they teach that perspective to others through experience in the Friendship Circle. It's a place to begin to 'normalize' disabilities, to replace awkwardness and fear with comfortableness and love, which will last long after all of the people have left the building.

It's a place for sibs of children with a special need or disability. It's a place for parents. It's a place for the whole family. (One of my pet peeves is charities and organizations that exclude the sibs and parents while catering to a special need. We don't need more divisiveness in families. We need more togetherness. Friendship Circle gets that, values that, honors that.)

And while it's a Jewish charity, the program is open to everyone who wants to volunteer or to sign up for services.

That's Friendship Circle and Lifetown. There are more than 70 FC's worldwide, so there may be one near you.

The "thing" they've created via Friendship Circle is the "thing" we need more of. Here's one family story: Have you ever been to a restaurant, trying to have a peaceful meal, and there's an annoying kid next to you...??? Click HERE for the rest of the story. We got to view this video and meet Jordon's mother today.

Friendship Circle families (which means families with a child w/ special needs as I am writing it) pay a small yearly fee to join, and rely heavily on fundraisers and donations to keep activities at Lifetown going. The most recent fundraiser was THIS ONE, where they were awarded $125,000. Today, Bassie Shemtov told us the story about how that came to be. Be sure to watch this video of one of the awareness strategies FC used to get votes. ;)

The upcoming fundraiser is the big walk: Walk4Friendship, scheduled for Sunday, September 5th, 2010. Another "freeze", a bigger one, for awareness is in the works.
Be sure to read Dani G's blog entry about the tree, and the girl, and the donor. (I didn't get a photo of the tree today). An excerpt: "If you have your doubts or you’re not sure it’ll be worth your while, let me tell you what you would be missing. Because if you had seen what I’ve seen, you would do what I’m doing. You would be there." Yes, it's that incredible!
We tried to get involved with Friendship Circle years ago, before Lifetown. They were building their list of volunteers for their Buddies at Home program, and there was no one nearby to be a buddy for my daughter. When the building was complete, the progams that were available for my young children conflicted with other activities on our schedule, so we put off getting involved. Several years passed. I embarrased to admit that I forgot about it until recently several friends told me about the activities and buddies there.
So, today, we returned. :) Please take a peek at how our day unfolded:
The Activity Wing is a child's dream! The Snoezelen Room and Water Room are so neat (who knew such a thing existed?!!!)!!! When we visited years ago, our favorite room was the Snoezelen Room - I'd like one in my house, quite honestly.
I did not get photos of every room; be sure to click through to see everything:

the purple sand is fun!

A room for pretend cooking...
...and real cooking!

Part of the tactile room
(this pic posted out of order):

(Buddy Break got some ideas from this room for it's program across town.
FC gave them a tour to give them some ideas.)

Music and dance:

Downstairs, Weinburg Village looks like a movie studio soundstage. The first time I saw the village, I could feel my jaw drop. It is amazing. Weinburg Village is a little town, with streets (complete with street lights) and stores, a bank, a park, dentist, doctor's office, beauty shop, pet store, a workshop, and library. Individuals get to practice life skills in a real-life model.

The park

Inside the pet store
the drug store
Pet store

Movie theater and streets


Doctor's office



The current gym (there's a new one under construction):

We were each "given" a "disability" for today's blogging event.
My younger daughter and I were hearing impaired.
My older daughter was assigned a physical impairment.

Interesting - a child on the autism spectrum is "given" a "hearing impairment" during a disability awareness exercise. Her mother (me) was "given" the same "impairment". (She looks like a radio announcer.)

Bassie Shemtov immobilized my daughter's writing hand.
My daughter had to figure out how to do everything with her weaker hand, from completing a withdrawal slip at the bank to steering a tricycle.

Others were assigned sight impairment or cognitive impairment.
Some were unable to speak.

We were told to start our experience at the bank, where we wer to fill out a withdrawal slip for $10. We were each given 10 one-dollar bills to spend throughout the town. We could buy snacks, shop in the drug store, buy a movie ticket, or pay for activities.

My girl spent a dollar on an activity in the workshop:

We had to follow the traffic laws or we risked getting a ticket.
Do not walk.

We spent a lot of time in the pet store. We didn't have to spend any of our $10 there!

The police officer is watching to make sure you follow the rules!

The girls rented tricycles with their money.

Swingset Mamas performing Take a Walk In Someone Else's Shoes

My favorite photo-op of the day was this one: What an honor to spend the day w/ Bassie Shemtov and to get to meet my internet friend Dani G in real life!

If you're a family who happens to have a family member with special needs, and you're looking for a place to connect and fit in, check out your local Friendship Circle. If you're looking for a place to volunteer and make a difference, check out your local Friendship Circle. And if you're looking for a place to donate some money, consider Friendship Circle. You will make a difference!
The Among Friends Blog HERE. Yours truly blogs there from time to time.


Shemtov Family said...

WOW!!! I never saw so muc put in to one article!! Great job:) Really nice getting to know you!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely incredible! What a blessing!

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