Presidential Kickoff: Spreading Joy

A group of newly minted teen presidents–75 of them– gathered September 10 for their first meeting, where they hobnobbed over sushi and networking together. These are the teens who make a difference every day in the lives of local families. They are the ones who have committed to spend extensive hours at LifeTown events, raising funds; recruiting friends; serving as captains for their respective high schools across the region, public and private, religious and secular; and still making time to volunteer. They are often the first to sign up for the Friendship Circle walk and take on increasing responsibility. 

It’s immediately obvious that the commitment of these teens comes from a deep place of gratitude and fulfillment. “I just really love what goes on here,” said Jake Caplan, 16, from Millburn High School. “It’s just a great opportunity to spend more time here.” At Torah Circle on Sundays, he said he has developed a special relationship with one of the participants. “Coming to Torah Circle is one of my favorite things to do all week,” he said. 

The teens serve a critical role for Friendship Circle programming, providing ideas and feedback “They are in the trenches every day, and they know what’s working and what isn’t,” said Esty Grossbaum, FCNJ junior division program director. “They help chart the course of our programs.” They’re also often the first to learn about upcoming events.

“I like being here with my friends, obviously, but it’s really about helping kids and watching them grow,” said Evan Caplan (no relation to Jake), a 16-year-old junior at Newark Academy.

For Jordyn Stein, 15 of Livingston, a tenth grader at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, becoming a president was all in the family. Her two older sisters both served as presidents before heading off to college. A volunteer since the seventh grade, she said the interaction is like no other in her life, learning how to help people so different from herself. “It’s very rewarding,” she said. She values the training she received in becoming a volunteer, along with the practical experience she’s gained over the years. A high point for her was figuring out how to communicate with someone unable to speak. “It’s not always easy, but the community at Friendship Circle is amazing, both the adults who volunteer and work there as well as the participants,” she said. “I’m so happy and excited to be there every Sunday–I want more people to come and join the Friendship Circle team and see how amazing it is, and how the hours we spend here impact peoples’ lives.”

A side benefit for Jordyn, Jake, Evan and the rest of the presidents, are the interactions they have together, across demographic and religious lines that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to cross, developing connections with other teens based on the value they place on volunteering. 

Looking ahead to the coming year, Jordyn is focusing her efforts on the Friendship Circle Walk and 5K, on October 22. “I’m really excited. I’ve already set up a fundraising page, and I’m going to do both the walk and the run this year!”

Friendship Circle relies on the teens, especially the presidents, for the energy, ideas, and insight they bring throughout the year. “Teens serve as our key partners in spreading joy,” said Grossbaum.

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