Catching the Bug!
They came to make the world a better place, to gain skills, to take responsibility. Over 200 teens gathered at LifeTown for the annual teen volunteer kickoff on September 6. Some have been volunteering for years already; others are Friendship Circle newbies; together they comprise the soul of Friendship Circle and the energy that powers LifeTown.
Camilla Herscovici, 16, of Short Hills, is a first-time volunteer. “I think this is a good opportunity to help out,” she said. She heard about the Friendship Circle through a neighbor who volunteers, and that’s all she needed. She knows first-hand what a difference she can make. “My cousin has a disability, so I know how tough it can be for the families.”
Hannah Simon, 14, of Livingston already has experience helping out – she worked with a peer in Hebrew school and wanted to continue making a difference. The kickoff marked her first event at LifeTown.
Samara Green, 17 of Short Hills, now entering her senior year of high school, has been volunteering since sixth grade. She started because her brother and some of her own friends were volunteering, she said, but now she caught the bug. She’s been participating in Friends@Home, making weekly visits to a participant at home, for three years and continued through the pandemic. “It’s amazing. It makes me feel so great!” she said. “If I can make a kid smile, I will. I am so thankful to be a part of the Friendship Circle.”
Students munched on pizza, greeted old friends, and filled out volunteer cards as they considered options for the year. Members of the volunteer Presidents Club checked in peers as they arrived and helped them find Friendship Circle t-shirts as they departed.
Drew Fermaglich, 16, spends so many hours at Friendship Circle and he is among the volunteer presidents. “I love seeing the enjoyment and the smiles on their faces and making their day,” he said, referring to the children and teens he buddies with. “It’s also paying it forward and being there for someone else.” This year, he brought his friends, brothers Zach and Ryan Friedman, also 16, from Livingston. “Drew made it seem like this is something we’d enjoy and I want to help,” said Zach, as his brother nodded in agreement.
The enthusiasm and dedication of these teens is the lifeblood of Friendship Circle and LifeTown; without their dedication, time, and friendship, the programming would be impossible. “It’s the energy of teenagers like you that makes all the difference,” Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, CEO of LifeTown, told the group. “If you’re having fun, the kid you are helping will have fun. LifeTown is built on that fun and friendship.”
Grossbaum offered one note of caution: “Volunteering at Friendship Circle can be contagious. Most volunteers enjoy the experience so much they catch the bug and continue to volunteer throughout their lives!” Lauding them for seeking out Friendship Circle, he also encouraged them to wear their “volunteer cap” beyond formal volunteering. “Wherever you are, please welcome a peer into your social circles. It can change their life. It will change yours.”
For those teens who were unable to attend it’s not too late – visit fcnj.com/volunteers/getting-started for more info.