By Joe Parris
Laughter, smiles, and companionship; that is what friendship is all about. For some children with special needs, however, making friends can become difficult at times.
Rabbi Avraham Mintz of the Chabad of South Metro Denver began receiving requests last year from
parents of special needs children to provide programs for them. Rabbi Mintz acknowledged the issue and began to research what he could do to help these kids.
What he found was an international organization called Friendship Circle.
Friendship Circle focuses on creating connections and breaking down the barrier between children with special needs and their peers. After learning about special needs and additional training, volunteers are matched with a child with special needs and meet weekly to play, enjoy each others company and, most importantly, to just be kids.
With teenagers being the primary volunteers in the program, Friendship Circle encompasses much more than just helping out a child with special needs. It generates a true bond with a friend and a real sense of belonging. Often, children and teens feel uncomfortable around kids with special needs. This feeling can lead children and teens alike to stay within their comfort zone, never making an effort to connect with kid with special needs.
Friendship Circle helps to create a more comfortable environment so that everyone can reach out into something new. This circle benefits everyone involved, providing valuable experiences to volunteers and a real sense of belonging for the child with special needs.
When asked about her experiences, teen volunteer Alana Horwitz, a 9th grader at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch said, Friendship Circle is absolutely one of the best experiences I have ever been involved with in my life. Friendship Circle gives children the chance to make more friends and feel like they belong. It creates such a great atmosphere for them to feel comfortable in, and they always enjoy it!