Hundreds Celebrate FC Cocktail Night

Friends and supporters filled the halls of LifeTown on Jan. 9 to honor the “Circle of Friends” recipients: Sharon and Seth Apple, Brooke and Aryeh Czarka, Mira Sasson, and Julie and Jonathan Schwartz.

This year’s Friendship Circle Cocktail Night drew 450 attendees who came to celebrate the honorees and recognize the work being done at the recently dedicated LifeTown: The Jerry Gottesman Center. 

In speaking about the powerful impact LifeTown has had on the community in only a few short months, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, chief executive of Friendship Circle, quoted an email he’d received from a teacher who visited LifeTown with her students just the day before. 

“Today was the best day ever,” she wrote. “It was absolutely amazing. I teared up at one point watching our students apply skills they are learning in school. As they navigated the town, they had a blast and their smiles were so big. The kids kept talking about it the entire ride home. Today was the highlight of my entire career,” the email continued.

The evening’s presentation continued with video remarks from each of the honorees, who shared their individual stories of what Friendship Circle and LifeTown means to them and why supporting the institution is so important to them and their families. They mentioned several common themes, including building deep connections, friendship and family.

Sharon Apple said she really appreciates the opportunity to do something as a family. “We all can find our way of fitting in and connecting with other children and parents” at Friendship Circle, she said. “I love that I also come here and feel it’s my home away from home.”

She also told the audience how much she loves to share her childhood passion of dance with Friendship Circle participants. “I don’t think they realize how much they can do until at that moment they are doing it,” she said, referring to dance class participants. “They’re performing the routine and they’re smiling and they’re laughing and they’re cheering, and I know they love it,” she said.

In addition to her family’s involvement and excitement, her company, Nestle Health, generously stepped up to sponsor the Nestle Health Science Nutrition Zone, where so many teen volunteers gather regularly to grab a snack, socialize and relax. Following her guidance, co-workers and company management were all very excited to “have a hand in developing the space,” she said of her employer.

Another award recipient, Brooke Czarka spoke about how she began volunteering as a teen 20 years ago. Things came “full circle,” she said, when her daughter Batya was born with cerebral palsy and her family was on the receiving end of Friendship Circle’s compassion.  She praised Friendship Circle for being there for her family during the hard times, and especially after Bayta passed away. People should know, she said, that Friendship Circle is there for them, and she encouraged would-be volunteers to be there for Friendship Circle as well.

After the presentation, there were many awed attendees checking out the “Western Wall” in the shul at Lifetown, painstakingly designed from Styrofoam by honoree Mira Sasson, who is also an art teacher at Friendship Circle’s Torah Circle program on Sundays. She even went so far as to put little notes from children in the material used to build the wall so that every stone has a neshama, a soul, inside. She told the audience how much she enjoys sharing her gift with others. “To be able to give them a tool to express themselves…it’s amazing,” she said.

For Julie and Jonathan Schwartz, Friendship Circle is a multi-generational family affair spanning several generations. The newest generation to become involved is the couple’s daughter, Mia. In lieu of gifts, Mia chose to embark on a bat mitzvah project to raise funds to help build out the LifeTown kitchen. She and her school friends also hosted a cooking class with Friendship Circle participants.

“It’s not just the families of children with special needs who benefit from the services,” Julie Schwartz said. “It’s our entire community-at-large who benefits from having not just the Friendship Circle, but LifeTown.”

“It’s really a one-of-a-kind environment,” her husband added.

In addition to thanking the honorees for their tireless efforts, Grossbaum thanked the dedicated Friendship Circle staff for making the building come alive every day with energy, love and warmth. He also thanked the community for its commitment to Friendship Circle and to LifeTown, and he encouraged everyone to become actively involved, if they aren’t already.

“This is the work of the entire community coming together and deciding to do something revolutionary,” he said. “Thank you all for making this dream possible.” 

You may also like...