WEST HARTFORD — On Sunday, Oct. 25, dozens of local teens gathered from all over the greater Hartford area in an outdoor setting with social distancing, to learn and seek new and creative ways bring together children to young adults, with and without special needs, living in isolation, at the Friendship Circle of Greater Hartford’s Teen Orientation, according to an email from organizers.
“Social isolation is difficult for everyone. However, during the pandemic it is especially difficult for the segment of the community living with disability” said Shaya Gopin, director of the Friendship Circle. “Social connections can be challenging for them even during normal times, they now have the need for social connection and community more than ever.”
Friendship Circle brings together toddlers through young adults, with and without special needs for a variety of Judaic and social programming.
Many times, in the life of a child with special needs social isolation is a huge and hurtful challenge.
Friendship Circle fills that void and facilitates friendship between all our members through weekly home visits, holiday celebrations, Jewish education, cooking, fitness and art programs, all while developing strong friendships.
“This year’s pandemic has made it more challenging, however, now it is more vital to ensure these connections continue,” Gopin said.
At the heart of the organization is a group dedicated teenage volunteers from local high schools, from five local towns, who give freely of their time, devotion and unconditional love and support.
The theme of this year orientation was “You Are ESSENTIAL, not optional services,” helping the teen volunteers realize the vital role they play during this pandemic.
A panel of parents and siblings shared their perspective on how the pandemic effects them and their family and tips on how to successfully engage with those with special needs.
Tammy Krulewitz, Friendship Circle volunteer coordinator, introduced the launch a new program called “FC Connect,” challenging the teens to creatively connect with children living with disability.
“Either through drive by activities that can be done at a distance form their driveway or mailing from a distance games and activities, things that develop the social connection through periods of ‘stay at home’ during the cold months of the winter ahead,” said Tammy.
At the direction of Shayna Gopin, FC’s program director, the teens learned the process of Challa baking and its deeper life messages that can be applied to all healthy relationships especially engaging someone who is different than yourself.
Inspired by the magic of genuine friendship and further understanding, our members are encouraged to see the abilities in others, empowering everyone to develop a more accommodating and welcoming Jewish community for all.
In the fall of 2009 Chabad of Greater Hartford began the Friendship Circle with two groups. Ten years later, Friendship Circle has multiple programs and 100 members.
Friendship Circle is a project of Chabad of Greater Hartford.