The Stars of the Evening? Teen Volunteers, Whose Energy Sparkled

They came out to salute Friendship Circle’s amazing volunteers, but those who gathered at this year’s annual FC Volunteer Celebration also came away with a strong appreciation for the power of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Nearly 300 people attended the event, which was held this year at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston. The program featured guest speaker Pamela Schuller, a comedian and well-known inclusion advocate, and Joseph Volfman, 18, a former Friendship Circle participant who participated in the Miami Marathon earlier this year using a recumbent hand-cycle to raise awareness for FC and people with special needs.

For the most part, though, the night belonged to the teen volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure that children with special needs and their young siblings enjoy the benefits and beauty of friendship. The teens provide one-on-one support and fun interactions, with a focus on looking past a child’s disability by focusing on who the child is and what they can accomplish.

The Jerry Waldor Fellowship Award was presented to 105 teens who contributed more than 30 volunteer hours this year to Friendship Circle. Additionally, 14 teens qualified for the national Presidential Volunteer Service Award; to qualify, the teens had to volunteer in excess of 50 hours in a 12-month period, depending on the volunteer’s age.

Among those in attendance was Shari Turbin, whose daughter, Shayna, received both the Jerry Waldor Fellowship Award and the national President’s Volunteer Service Award from the White House. Turbin was in awe of the program.

“This was the first time I had the pleasure of hearing Pamela Schuller speak,” says Shari Turbin. “I just adored the way she put her disability aside and focused her energies on comedy. . . . And seeing the video of Joseph as a shy little boy yearning to get out and do something as energetic as riding a bike, and then hearing him speak about his transformation into an athlete completing marathons, was incredible!”

Even the speakers enjoyed themselves. As Schuller posted on Facebook after the event: “Love, love, love the work that Friendship Circle does!”

Know someone who wants to volunteer with Friendship Circle? Contact Toba Grossbaum at 973-251-0200 or [email protected].

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