Teens Befriend Socially Isolated Children

Friendship Circle celebrates friendship and makes it happen for Central Massachusetts children and families who are socially isolated because of physical, emotional or behavioral disabilities.

H.A.L.O. visited with a happy group of families at a recent barbeque sponsored by the Jewish Chabad of Westboro, MA. This fledgling group organizes monthly events for families and recruits, trains and matches teenage volunteers to be supportive friends to children who have a disability.

�Our goal is to make these children and their families feel more integrated with the community,� said Rabbi Yaron Kimelman, who oversees Friendship Circle with his wife Yona Rivka. �This experience enriches the lives of everyone involved, from the teenagers who learn about the power of giving to the children who get to experience the fun of friendship.�

�We now have over twenty amazingly devoted teen volunteers and a growing number of families who are seeking friendship for their special needs children," the rabbi said.

Families do not need to be associated with Chabad � or even be Jewish � to take participate in activities with more than 100 independent Friendship Circles across the United States and Canada. Children with a wide range of disabilities are welcome.

What do Teens and Families say?

(Pseudonyms have been used to maintain anonymity.)

Andrew�s mom: �I guess I was surprised to find out that there are actually teenagers who want to do this kind of thing. I have two sons on the autism spectrum, and am always looking to make connections for them . . . Andrew is great with adults, but has trouble interacting with kids, and transitions can be very tough. I always feel people are staring at us. At the picnic he made quite a scene; last week it was at the grocery store. David�s visit each week gives me a break from keeping Andrew occupied.�

David, 14: �I go to the Academy of Mathematics and Science, and was just looking for something different to do. I found out I really enjoy playing with Andrew. I feel like I am helping someone.�

Michael�s mom: �It�s nice for Michael to be with someone who isn�t going to make him learn something or answer questions. Two teenagers alternate weekly visits, and this gives Michael two new friends. He is not a kid who plays well with his peer group so it�s less stressful for him to be with an older child who will give him some slack.�

Hank, 14: �Sometimes Michael can be challenging, but I have learned what to do to keep him calm. (When Michael scraped his toe while climbing on rocks at the beach, Hank redirected his attention to avoid an outburst, then gave him a piggyback ride to the first aid station.) I didn�t know I would like this. It�s turned out to be a great opportunity to work with people I like and care about.�

Rita�s mom: �Friendship Circle is very good for my daughter Rita. For the first time she has a friend she can laugh with and share secrets. Most other children don�t know how to communicate with her. Her �friend� makes an effort.�

For information about the Westboro Friendship Circle, contact Rabbi Yaron Kimelman at (508) 410-3831 or visit www.fc.chabadwestboro.org.