Making a Difference One Friend at a Time

Friendship Circle volunteers recognized for their impact

LifeTown was abuzz on Tuesday, May 23, as volunteers of all ages came together in celebration of their efforts on behalf of Friendship Circle. The evening began with a gourmet buffet dinner, followed by an inspirational program of speakers and awards. The stars of the evening were the people who give of themselves, extending the bonds of friendship. 

The program began with an inspiring video highlighting Jonathan Cohen’s “Pull-Up Challenge” where he stretched his physical limits and completed 1,018 chin ups in the name of friendship.  Following the video, Jonathan shared how he dug deep into his physical reserves and pushed himself to raise money and awareness while hoping to inspire others to challenge themselves.

Jonathan said he realized the force his impact had on others when a child stood up from his wheelchair and attempted to pull himself up with Jonathan’s assistance. “I couldn’t see his face but I could feel his energy and pride as he inched up the bar and came back down.”

Following Jonathan, Livingston High School senior Harris Rosenthal spoke on behalf of the many volunteers and said, “To change the world happens one person at a time. Every time I come here, I look for that one person and just try to make a difference in his or her day. People think we are changing the lives of people with special needs but it is the opposite. They help us, inspiring us to go the extra mile in everything we do.”

Friendship Circle and LifeTown are blessed with volunteers who give so much and the organization took the opportunity to recognize and reward a select group of volunteers who donated more than 100 hours of service this year.

In describing this incredible accomplishment Rabbi Levi Grossbaum, Director of Operations, noted, “Their devotion and generosity knows no limits because they are giving the ultimate gift – themselves.”

Certificates and accolades were given, photos were taken, hands shaken and even a few happy tears shed as those special individuals were applauded and thanked.  Each volunteer emphasized the reciprocal nature and benefit of giving to the special needs community at Friendship Circle.

Volunteer Rebecca Kirstein shared her amazement at the breadth of her achievements. “Could I really have spent that much time? The hours fly by when I am here and I just leave feeling so much better than when I came. It is the highlight of my week and I can’t imagine what I would do without seeing the kids’ smiles and feeling their love.”

Many other volunteers echoed the benefits that they reap from their experience. For Siena Jacobs, a Volunteer President at West Essex High School, Friendship Circle is a family affair. “I have been coming to volunteer at Friendship Circle with my mom and my brother for years. This is something we do together and it has brought us closer. Together we are strong and we make a difference.”

The evening also included the first annual Molly Greenwald Lectureship featuring Dr. Al Condelucci. Dr. Condelucci encouraged the volunteers to open the gates of the future with their friendship and love. “Gates can be used to keep people out or to let them in and you have the power to control that gate.  The future won’t happen unless you the gatekeepers open those gates, to change the world and make the world as welcoming as LifeTown is.”

Dr Condelucci continued, “Gatekeepers open our minds to the possibilities of what the world can be.”  Teen volunteers visibly nodded agreement with his many ideas and echoed his sentiments that “Friendship makes us happier, healthier, better human beings.”

The highlight of the presentation was the Rita and Jerry Waldor Fellowship Awards. Shortly after the passing of Jerry Waldor in 2005, his wife Rita and the Waldor Family created the Jerry Waldor Special Needs Fellowship. The award recognizes the most dedicated Friendship Circle Teen volunteers who have consistently committed their time and energy and advanced their knowledge through educational programs.

Lyndsey Waldor fondly remembered Rita and Jerry, looking around the celebration and reminiscing, “My grandparents loved turning spaces and people into communities. They would have been very proud of everything happening here tonight. This is their legacy.”

LifeTown Awardees: Karen Band, Mindy Garb, Cheryl Greenwald, Fred Schreiber, Jodi Zwain, Max Zwain

Teen Volunteer Awardees: Hannah Blugrind, Justin Givner, Ellie Holinstat, Arielle Karni, Jonah Ladetsky, Jake Parker, Dalia Pivawer, Jonah Rieber, Isabel Rothschild, Gabe Turbin, Jake Warter, Rachel Yonteff

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