Jerusalem, the "city united together" according to King David's Psalms, is truly replete with daily and hourly acts and displays of kindness, brotherhood, and unity.
Certainly very high up on this list was the Friendship Circle of Central Jerusalem’s annual "Day of Enrichment and Empowerment" for its 89 dedicated volunteers this past Sunday.
An impressively fast-growing Jewish organization for children with special needs, the Friendship Circle is now active in some 80 locations worldwide after only 20 years of existence. Some 5,000 special-needs youngsters have been and are paired with nearly 11,000 teenage volunteers for weekly hours of camaraderie and fun, creating life-long friendships.
Sunday's event was held especially for the 89 Jerusalem volunteers – from the Hartman school, Beit Shulamit, Beit Meir and Beit Chana – and their young friends.
Typical of the Friendship Circle spirit, the program began with a Lead and Led workshop, in which volunteers took turns verbally leading a blindfolded friend through an "obstacle course" – all the while ensuring that the latter did not touch any of the obstacles before reaching their destination. An intense discussion followed, regarding the thoughts and feelings of those who took the lead and those who were led.
“These incredible volunteers show much devotion and perseverance,” says Director Mrs. Chana Canterman. "They show up at the children's homes after a long day at school, often after a long bus ride, with an assortment of activities, ingredients for cake baking, materials for easy sewing and more. Their creativity, and their love for the children, is endless."
The event also featured a panel discussion with Elli Renda, LCSW; behavioral therapist Chava Mishulovin, licensed life coach and lecturer Chana Boaz, and the mother of a 'special needs' child.
In addition to a festive meal prepared by Director Canterman, the participants were also treated to a hilarious but powerful skit produced by Esther Rozenson and Chava Mishulovin. The volunteers were reminded most creatively how much they mean to their special friends even when there seems to be no response to their efforts, as well as the vital importance of being committed and responsible in their visits.
Possibly most poignant was a short video clip depicting how one indomitable and spirited young girl went from Friendship Circle child to volunteer. "What a demonstration of an iron will to give!," Mrs. Canterman said.
Keynote speaker Ayelet Hashachar Eitan, director of the Child Integration Clinic at the world-renowned Feuerstein Institute, described the Feuerstein Theory of belief in people's ability to change. She gave a wide variety of valuable tips and suggestions as to how the volunteer can act as an influential mediator to promote necessary thinking and learning skills.
Friendship Circle manages to impact many circles of people, the Director sums up: "Children with special needs bloom and gain much-needed confidence; teenage volunteers learn the priceless value of giving, the curative power of friendship, and the vital importance of integrating special-needs children into the community, and parents and siblings receive much-needed needed respite and support."
Each volunteer also walked away from Sunday's event with several token gifts in appreciation of their enthusiastic efforts.
"Of course they all come because they simply want to do good," says Mrs. Canterman, "but I believe that every human being needs a little 'motivator' and appreciation from time to time. But I think they appreciated the wealth of inspiration and encouragement they received here today most of all!"