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Jewish Journal

Walk for friendship, fundraising

by Lauren Bottner

November 16, 2011 | 4:29 pm

The Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, which provides programs to more than 150 Jewish children with special needs, will hold its second annual Walk4FriendshipLA 3K walk at Rancho Park on Nov. 20.

Friendship Circle L.A.’s inaugural walk drew nearly 1,000 participants and raised $112,000 for the organization last year, exceeding its goal of $100,000. The group is hoping to raise $150,000 this year to fund its programs, including winter and end-of-summer camps, the arts-oriented Sunday Circle, and Friends at Home, which sends pairs of teen volunteers to visit with a special-needs child in his or her home.

The 3K walk, which goes along the perimeter of Rancho Park/Cheviot Hills Recreation Center in West Los Angeles, will begin at 12:30 p.m., followed by a festival with carnival games, entertainment and food.

“The Friendship Circle has just been contagious for my family. The more we were involved with volunteering, the more we wanted to do,” said Friendship Circle L.A. Development Director Gail Rollman, who was introduced to the Chabad organization when her sons volunteered with a young boy with Down syndrome nine years ago.

Friendship Circle began in Detroit in 1994, and has spread to 22 states and seven countries. The Los Angeles chapter, established in 2003, is one of seven in Southern California.

More than 300 teen volunteers from 44 schools are matched with special-needs children through the Friendship Circle L.A. After completing an hour-long orientation and a one-on-one meeting, teen volunteers commit to an hour each week to visit, play and be friends with a special-needs child. Additional elective training seminars are held throughout the year to supplement a volunteer’s knowledge and skills.

Sigal Spitzer, a freshman at Shalhevet School, was matched with a special-needs child last year. The pair attended Friendship Circle’s weekly Hebrew school together.

After not seeing her during the summer break, Spitzer was worried her friend wouldn’t remember her. Instead, she said, she was greeted with “a huge hug, and she screamed, ‘I missed you!’ That one moment made me feel so appreciated, and I realized that I was making a difference in the life of my special friend.”

To register for Walk4FriendshipLA, visit walk4friendshipLA.com. For more information about Friendship Circle Los Angeles, visit fcla.org.

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