The Friendship Circle

March 21, 2013
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Ever since I was a child, I knew Melissa was different. She spoke slower than her piers. She acted differently than her friends. When I came of age to realize that my cousin, Melissa, was mentally challenged my smile faded from my face. In the beginning, not fully understanding her mental disability, I felt awkward and trapped around her. However, as time went by I started to develop a more meaningful relationship with Melissa through texting and instant messaging. The most fascinating aspect of our relationship was her ability to mask her disability with her adept typing and texting capabilities. Sadly, I was unable to communicate with Melissa as often as I would have liked because of our long distance relationship and my substantial workload. I felt empty, as if I were missing something that made me feel appreciative towards the blessings I have received. I found something local, something that would change my life. I found The Friendship Circle, an organization that provides services and support for Jewish children and teens with special needs through the help of specially trained teen volunteers.

As I strutted into Sunday Circle on the first Sunday of high school, I was eager to meet my friendship circle buddy. I arrived late so I decided to look for my co- volunteer, Daniel Gottlieb. After an exhausting search, I came across Daniel sitting in the atrium with our buddy. He introduced me to JJ and pointed to JJ’s bag of snacks.I didn't know it at the time but JJ would change the way I see the world. The first few weeks were action packed. As a result of JJ’s allergies and our attraction to enjoyment, we spent most of our time in the gym and the library. Watching JJ in a library is like watching a picky person at a bakery; they both know what they want. Despite his weekly final selection of Alice in Wonderland , JJ returned every misplaced book to their original location on the shelves on his own conscience. For the first two months, JJ didn’t speak. We weren’t sure if he didn’t want to speak or if he didn’t know how to speak. The moment, two months after meeting him, when JJ opened his mouth and recited both Daniel’s name and my name was the most remarkable moment from my experience with the Friendship Circle. After minutes of awe and astonishment, Daniel and I began to realize that we made a difference in JJ’s life. We finally understood why he kept his mouth shut for so long, he wanted to wait until he felt comfortable around us. That moment with JJ was one of the most memorable moments of my life, and influenced me to take a larger role in the organization as one of my school’s Friendship Circle presidents.

My experience with the Friendship Circle has changed the way I view Melissa and myself. Despite the irritation of waking up early on Sundays for Sunday Circle and taking time out of the hot summer sun to volunteer for Allie’s Camp, volunteering is always worth it. The sensation of helping your piers and putting a smile on your buddy’s face is priceless. Ever since I began volunteering for the Friendship Circle four years ago, my relationship with Melissa has improved and my respect towards her is immense. The Friendship Circle is in my blood. It is part of my identity. The Friendship Circle is my family.

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