2017 Friendship Circle Banquet Recap

Smashing Records, Warming Hearts

Friendship Circle Banquet Brings Together Hundreds for an Evening of Inspiration

It’s not every day that a 17-year-old can move an audience of 850 people to spontaneous applause and tears. But that’s just what happened at this year’s Friendship Circle Annual Banquet as Joseph Volfman recounted his own powerful story.

Speaking in front of the packed room, Joseph described how despite being born with cerebral palsy, he knows that he can accomplish anything. “I want to take the ‘dis’ out of ‘disability’ and focus on ‘ability.’ ”

Joseph captivated the participants recounting how he got his first bicycle at age 11 from Friendship Circle and has since been inspired to master other sports. He even made the evening news in January when he used a specially designed recumbent bike to hand-cycle his way through the Miami Marathon—all 26.2 miles.

“After being involved with Friendship Circle as a recipient for so many years, I wanted to do something to give back,” he said. “And so, on Jan. 29 of this year, I took on the marathon on behalf of Friendship Circle.

“ . . . Had it not been for Friendship Circle, had it not been for that bicycle in 2011,” he continued, “I don’t see how all the wonderful things that followed would have ever happened.”

His speech was, for many in the audience, the emotional highlight of the evening. As first-time FC banquet attendee Lynette Steckel said: “I just loved his speech and his outlook on life.”

Those who came to this year’s event agreed that it was beyond anything they could imagine. Held at The Grove in Cedar Grove, N.J., it featured an outstanding array of food and drinks, and great company.

But it was the formal program that really gripped people’s attention. The multimedia presentation helped transport the audience into the world of Friendship Circle.

Joseph’s inspiring words were followed by a video presentation called “Then & Now,” which told the story of two of the earliest Friendship Circle children to participate in programming: Max Lerner and Hannah Solomon, and their families.

Both the Lerner and Solomon families spoke about how, over the past 17 years, the Friendship Circle has impacted their family and the community at large. They shared how much they cherish the sense of belonging and hope they feel at Friendship Circle. They stressed that Friendship Circle is where their children, now young adults, are always welcomed and loved.

Among the attendees at this year’s event was former New York Gov. David Paterson, who served as a banquet chair and was there to support one of the evening’s honorees, his friend Robert Sloposky.

The governor said that those who were being honored that night didn’t accept the awards on their own behalf, but in honor of the many people who “come and give of their time, money and service.”

No one does this to win an award, said Paterson; they do it “because it’s the right thing to do.” They do it, he emphasized, “to enlighten all of us as to the benefits” of being involved with a worthy cause.

The evening’s other honorees were Jennifer and Christopher Johnson, and the team at Hollister Construction; Maxine Murnick and her family; and Jamie and Adam Altman.

The honorees represented a mix of philanthropists and business people committed to Friendship Circle, and especially, to its LifeTown project. Now under construction, the 53,000-square-foot center will provide social programming, job training and life skills to children and adults with special needs.

“This was our must successful banquet ever,” declared Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive director of Friendship Circle. He added that Friendship Circle is now entering its chai year—its 18th anniversary—offering programs and services to families with children with special needs.

While that is a true milestone, he said, there is still work to be done.

Noting that more than $12.6 million has been raised to build LifeTown, construction will cost closer to $15 million. The goal, he said, is to close that $2.4 million gap so that the center will be able to open mortgage-free.

Grossbaum made a specific request to the evening’s participants. “As we enter our chai year—and chai means life—give the gift of life to the children and families with LifeTown.”

For business partners Tom Van Geldren and Mike Garrett, who came to support their associates at Hollister Construction, the evening exceeded their expectations. “I thought this was fantastic, very inspiring,” said Garrett, co-owner of Patriot Sawcutting. “It makes for a great, great night.”

Van Geldren acknowledged that “it makes you want to do more, to do good.”

But Sylvia Cohn perhaps best summed up the night, looking towards the immediate future: “I don’t know how they will be able to top this, other than by celebrating the actual opening of LifeTown.”

Plans for that event are already in the works, with a grand opening expected this fall.

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