2016 Friendship Circle Walk Recap


Teams at Friendship Circle Walk Show There’s ‘Power in Unity’

What do an unseasonably warm October day, 2,000 people and lots of smiles have in common? They were all part of the beauty that was this year’s FCwalk. Held on Oct. 30, the afternoon walk brought together Friendship Circle families, friends, neighbors, supporters and participants.

“It’s inspiring to see so many people from different areas of our community come together and support each other,” said Stacy Merkel, who attended the walk with her family. “Everybody has their own spark, and just because someone is different,” their spark still shines brightly.

Chanel Mays, who has a nephew with autism, attended the event with her three young daughters. It was their first time at the walk, and Mays was pleasantly surprised by the turnout. “It means a lot to me seeing all these people. It lets people with special needs know they are as important as anyone else,” she said.

This year’s route went right by the chain-link fence and open walls at the LifeTown facility currently under construction, offering everyone a glimpse of the future. As one woman said as she went by: “If this is what it’s like before the building is finished, just imagine what it will be like once LifeTown is built!”

The festivities began long before the official 1 p.m. walk start time as families and teams gathered early to enjoy the 80-degree weather. As kids made tzedakah boxes, colored their team signs and had their faces painted, parents mingled and snacked on fruit and energy bars as they fueled up for the 1-mile loop.

For many in attendance, the event was truly a family affair. Parents, children and grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins all joined in for a common good and common cause.

“We’ve been coming to the walk for years,” said 17-year- old Eden Mendelsohn, who attended with her mother and several of her younger siblings. “Seeing it grow and grow shows that more people care.”

Added her brother Matthew, 12: “It shows there’s power in unity.”

Such unity provides support to families who have been touched by a child with special needs. As Carole Kirschenbaum explained; “Our granddaughter, Ivy, has special needs, and it’s very heartwarming to see this many people come out for the walk, regardless of their family’s circumstances.”

It also shows that people refuse to give up and “are fighting to the do the best for their children,” said her husband, Richard.

Addressing the crowd right before the official walk kickoff, Joanne Trenk told the crowd just how important Friendship Circle is to her family. Friendship Circle, she said, means that “our son has a safe place to go and enjoy himself.”

A place, she continued, “where there is no judgement . . . where arms and hearts are open when we need it most.”

Jared Kirschenbaum, who turned 13 recently, made raising money for Friendship Circle a key part of his Bar Mitzvah celebration. His FCwalk team, Team Perseverance, raised more than $20,000 for the event.

Speaking to the crowd, he explained why the day was so personal for him. “For four years, I have watched my parents fundraise for Friendship Circle, and I know that this is what I wanted to do. Not only would this honor my coming of age in the Jewish religion, it would also honor my sister, Ivy,” Jared said. “Friendship Circle has become a very important part of our lives. I can’t wait for LifeTown to be completed so I can go swimming with Ivy, one of her favorite activities.

“I am so proud to be a part of this.”

‘A Little Sun in G-d’s Universe’

For all the deep emotions and meaning behind the walk, the day was also a fun-filled one helping to build bridges between people of different backgrounds, abilities and communities. The youngest children rode on a train, enjoyed animals at the petting zoo and took a swing at a blow-up baseball game. Older kids played VR games (that had them lining up again and again), climbed a rock wall and more.

Then there was Brent McCoy’s stage show. Dressed as a construction worker—a nod to the construction now going on at LifeTown and the theme of this year’s walk—McCoy delighted the youngsters with his stunts and juggling routine.

An impressive 110 walking teams raised more than $170,000 as of Monday morning. The money raised goes to underwrite FC programs like the Sunday-morning Torah Circle and midweek sports club. It also allows for the creation of new programs.

“We are always happily surprised by the sheer number of people who make the FCwalk a priority. Their dedication gives us the strength to keep on going, providing necessary friendship and programs for children with special needs,” explained Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive director of Friendship Circle and CEO of LifeTown. “This year’s forecast may have called for rain, yet the sun shone down on Livingston and the thousands who wanted to make a statement that everyone is important.

“Each person,” he stressed, “is like a little sun in G-d’s universe, each with the potential to achieve their G-d- given mission.”

As the afternoon drew to a close and her children took part in various post-walk activities, Elana Erez summed up the event: “Seeing how many lives Friendship Circle has changed and helped is inspiring. It’s important to give them support so they continue to support families who need it.”

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