Dear Scott,
“Those who can, do.  Those who can do more, volunteer.”  We are so thankful to you for giving of your time each and every week over the past two years to come interact with  Ryan.  He looked forward to your Sunday morning visits and continually asked “my  friends.”  You made him smile.  He enjoyed all the great things you did together. He loved playing X-Box/Wii, playing basketball, riding his scooter and much more. 

Only special people like you see it in their heart to volunteer their time and energy to help others.  You did not treat Ryan any differently and you saw him as a person not as a child with a disability.  You encouraged him to always try to do things on his own. He loved the independence...

Gabriel's Bar Mitzvah was made possible because of this wonderful program. As you can see, Gabriel loved It. Highly personalized, hands-on, engaging and fun. Tamar is a wonderful teacher and the student volunteers were attentive and compassionate.Highly recommend this program to any family that is looking for a Hebrew School experience that provides accommodations for children with special needs. Thank you to Rabbi  Shaya Gopin and  Shayna Rivkin Gopin for your commitment to serving families like ours. 


Dear Max, 
I can’t believe we’ve already been friends for two years! You are so much fun to hang out with and I’m so glad to have an awesome friend like you! I love coming to your house and playing Mad Libs, Apples to Apples, and having super cool dance parties. Our friendship has grown so much these past two years. Even though I am going to college next year, I know that we will stay in touch. You have such a huge heart and have such a special bond with Eli which is so nice to watch. Max, thank you for teaching me to find the joy in life. You are not one to dwell on things that go wrong; you quickly bounce back and continue having fun. I have never seen you without a smile on your face, and the smallest moments give you the greatest joy. Nothing brightens your day like winning a green card in Apples to Apples, watching a video of one of our dance parties, or waving as Eliana and I enter your house. You are always running, dancing, laughing, jumping, and enjoying life. It is truly inspirational for me to come from a day at school, a setting which allows little time for carefree leisure, to your house. You are so special and your energy is contagious. I will remember all of our fun times together: Friends at Home, Art Circle, Fitness Circle, holiday events, and so many more. I remember the time we went bowling together, the time we made Havdalah candles together, the time we first had a dance party together, and the time we played Red Sox Twister together. Thank you for the fun times, lessons, and memories. Having a friend like you has made a lasting impact on my life and you will do amazing things in the future. Please keep in touch always. Go FC!


Dear RJ 
We are so grateful that Ryan has been lucky enough to work with two of the Michael’s children.  “Those who can, do.  Those who can do more, volunteer.”  We want to thank you for devoting your personal time over the past four years to work with Ryan.  We know you have a great deal on your plate from sports to Pops ‘n Jazz, not to mention hours of homework, we appreciated the time you reserved for Ryan.  He looked forward to playing with his “friends on Sundays.  He enjoyed playing tennis, riding his scooter, shooting basketballs, and playing X-Box with you.  He will miss your artistic abilities as you made Judaic crafts and colored with him.  We have so many fond memories!  You have seen him grow taller and taller.  Maybe he will catch up to you. 

“No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.”  You did not treat Ryan any differently and you saw him as a person not as a child with a disability.  You encouraged him to always try to do his best.   

Remember any time you come back to West Hartford our door is always open for a quick hello.  We wish you only the best in college.  Reach for your dreams.  Keep in touch and we are sure we will see photos of you on facebook.  Maybe when you back, Ryan will call you RJ not David. 

Thank you once again from the bottom of our hearts.  We will all miss you, especially Ryan.   

Randi, Ryan and Justin Leopold 


Dear Gabe,
As I sit here writing this letter, I just want to start by saying how thankful I am to have been able to spend the past two years with you. I just got home from watching your orchestra concert with Sasha at our old elementary school. The smile I saw on Gabe’s face when he came out of the auditorium and saw us truly made my day. It is that exact smile that makes my day every Sunday when we hang out with Gabe. Gabe is such an intelligent, caring young boy and I have loved every minute I’ve spent with him no matter the activity we are doing. I love when Gabe teaches us new games outside, shows us his new piano pieces, and when we play board games such as Scrabble, Monopoly, Clue, and more. One of my favorite days with Gabe was when he taught Sasha and I how to make origami paper cranes. I know how confused Sasha and I were, but Gabe was so patient and helped us through every step. Gabe has brought more joy into my life than I could have ever imagined. I am so lucky to be able to call him my “little brother” and friend. I will miss him so much next year and it has been amazing to watch Gabe grow over the past two years.  






Hi Everyone. I hope you are all enjoying today's program and have had the opportunity to visit the different stations. It always warms my heart to come to a Friendship Circle program and see all of the participants and how they've grown, both physically and emotionally. Personally, I love seeing RJC growing more independent, happily working as the greeter with her mentors. Over this year I have seen her more comfortable in this role and actually smiling and having fun seeing everyone come in. Just try to sneak by – she'll nab you in a minute to be sure you have your nametag!

I'd like to share a little bit of our story as to why FC is important to our family.

As far as I know, Rachael does not know what being “Jewish” means. This is too abstract of a concept for her. So if she doesn't understand the concept of being Jewish, why does it matter to me that she is here and participating in FC? Until recently I would answer “I have no idea.” But something happened recently that has made me rethink this answer.

Rachel has her sleep routine at night and her wake up routine in the morning. At night, she showers, plays on her iPad, I brush her teeth, she gets a drink from the kitchen and we go to her room. Together we say the first line of the Shema prayer in Hebrew. Then we have a goodnight script we say every single night. Monday through Friday, in the morning, she will come in to bed with me once my husband is awake and moving. She will either hold my arm like it's a stuffed animal, take hold of my hand, or if I'm on my side facing away from her she will pat my back.

One day she had a very busy day and between her sleeping pill and the outdoor activity she must have been very tired. After she had her drink she went to her room but didn't wait for me. I went in just a few minutes later and she was asleep. The next morning, she came into bed with me, took my hand and said, "Say Shema with mommy?" We said Shema together, she was satisfied, and fell back to sleep. The simple request to say a prayer with mom - whether or not she knows it's a prayer is not the point - it's that she feels something when she says it. And she wants to say it with mom. And when she doesn't, she misses it.

So this started me thinking that maybe she does have an innate feeling of her Jewishness. The act of saying the Shema has some meaning to her or she would not feel the need to say it after missing it. Maybe it's a routine, but just maybe there is some spiritual comfort in it for her. She likes to watch “Barney” in Hebrew. She enjoys receiving an aliyah at our synagogue and lighting the Chanukah candles. She loves Friendship Circle events. Maybe these are her ways of expressing and living her own Jewishness.

I am sure that we all will have different feelings about this for our own children, but here's my take on it for my girl. I do not have the right to decide if she does or does not have an understanding of her Jewishness. If she does, it is probably not in the same way that I understand mine, but do any of us understand or experience this in the same way? There is something about participating in the holidays and various Jewish rituals that makes her happy. She enjoys Friendship Circle immensely. At the beginning of the year when the schedule of

events comes out she puts it right on our refridgerator. She loves being with the teen mentors when she comes here and I truly believe she understands the feeling of being accepted and appreciated for who she is. And isn't that pretty much the foundation of the Torah? Loving your neighbor as yourself and treating people the way you want to be treated? Really, what more could I want for her? She has her own understanding of being Jewish that I will never know because she cannot express it. But I believe with my heart and soul that she knows there is something special about the Shema, something special about going to synagogue, and something very special about Friendship Circle.

So to that end I am grateful to see you all here and being part of her Jewish experience. Shayna and Rabbi Shaya, all of the high school students, as well as the adults who help out at each program, thank you for giving Rachael and her peers the opportunity to feel Jewish – each in their own way.
~Donna Cohen


I never would have thought that spending one hour per week with someone could have such an impact on each of us individually. Dan and I created a special friendship with Gary, and it has strengthened over the course of this year. I noticed the effect that it has had on me when I found myself searching for Gary in the cafeteria one day just to say hello to brighten up my day; it worked. Additionally, whenever Dan or I are unable to spend our time with Gary, the other one has noted that each time, he has set up a bingo board and filled it out as if we were all there. I think that this shows the impact that Friendship Circle has on the volunteers and our friends. 
~Ben Alpert, Friendship Circle Volunteer 


...999 interlocking puzzle pieces create an image, with only one more piece needed to complete the picture. Once that last piece is put into place, there remains a feeling of joy and relief. With my friend Ari, a child with high functioning autism, finding the final piece was a struggle. We had been paired together for several months in The Friendship Circle's activities, yet they never seemed to spark his interest. Undeterred, I searched for the missing piece, seemingly lost forever. Finally the search ended in the form of a baby goat. The mobile petting zoo brought forth a new Ari. Sitting for well over forty-five minutes Ari smiled, shared, and stroked the baby goat. Soon after, with happiness I had never witnessed, Ari proceeded to wrap a nine-foot long snake around his neck, as I cheered five feet away.  
~Ben Shoham, Friendship Circle Volunteer


...we asked Jack if he was looking forward to having you come for a visit after Passover and school vacation had kept you and him apart for several straight weeks. He said, “yes, I miss them.” That might seem like an innocent enough comment for a typical 15-year-old, but for us, and for Jack, it was a huge breakthrough… the concept of “missing” someone was not something he had ever offered up on his own, and it showed a real consciousness of a relationship that had developed.
~Bruce Putterman, Friendship Circle Dad


I have found that the hour I spend on Sunday evening with Gary is one of the only times in the week that I'm able to completely forget about stress and school and truly have a good time, whether on a walk, doing a puzzle, or playing Disney Bingo. To be completely honest, the first couple of visits didn't feel as natural or comfortable as Danielle or I would have hoped, but since then every week it has been so amazing to see the change in Gary's interactions with us. The three of us have formed a really great bond that I know will only continue to get stronger week by week. 
~Friendship Circle Member


This past year has been a journey of growth and discovery for Gabe, Samuel and their friends, Dee, Gavi, Deena and Natana. You have shared in their high and low points, always understanding and accepting, taking it one day at a time. You have allowed them to joyfully be themselves – unfiltered –without demands. As a parent of two special needs children one learns to notice the little things. To those who look but do not see.. it may not mean much. But as Samuel and Gabe’s mother I see the change their friends have imparted on them… Samuel’s little smirk when Dee and Gavi come through the door… Samuel demanding that their names go on his monthly calendar on the days they are to come over.. when asked who are your friends the response is always Dee and “Gabi”. I see Gabe laughing gleefully as the girls try to keep up with him as he maneuvers through a building or on a walk. Never doubt what you mean to our children . They, Larry and I are proud to call you friend. 
~Mrs. Beth Slozberg-Widem, Friendship Circle Mom


If I told you the highlight of my school week was the weekend, or watching Gossip Girl on Monday nights, I would be lying. The highlight of my week is hands down the hour I spend hanging out with Erica. Going to Erica's house baking brownies, playing webkins, hide and go seek or creating an imaginary pirate ship have been some of the most influential and fun moments of my life. I cannot wait to spend another year filled with these experiences. 
~Jodie Salzberg, Friendship Circle Volunteer


Alex and Josh are great with Zachary! They call him by name, which is a good habit for him, and they ask him things. They compliment him, laugh at his jokes, and interact with him. They also tell him if he is getting carried away with something. In Zachary’s case, he needs role-models to show him how to interact with friends, and Alex and Josh are fabulous! Zachary looks forward to playing with them. 
~Jessica Borden, Friendship Circle Mom 


When I find myself in a bad mood I can always look back on the good memories I have had with Jamie and Paul. Without Friendship Circle my life at this point would be different and maybe missing something in it. Friendship Circle has continued to be a great thing for me, Paul and Jamie and I plan on continuing it throughout my high school career. 
~Jeremy Fishman, Friendship Circle Volunteer