One of the struggles for parents of children with special needs can be creating a healthy and active social life outside of school. Recognizing this challenge and offering solutions is the Friendship Circle of Illinois, a local nonprofit that connects Jewish teenage volunteers and children with special needs for weekly visits, special outings and group activities. “It has proven to be very helpful in creating and maintaining friendships,” says Rabbi Zelik Moscowitz, director of the program, which has been around in the Chicago area for the past four years.
Friendship Circle of Illinois
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The Friendship Circle works to address the needs of local children with special needs that range from fragile X syndrome to autism to physical disabilities, Moscowitz says. Last year, for example, the organizers noticed that typical children are often encouraged by their friends to join after-school activities, clubs and sports teams. But this can be difficult for children with special needs when the services aren’t properly equipped for them. To address this need, the Friendship Circle launched several short-term clubs that are specifically targeted toward these children, like the cooking club and martial arts club. A crafting club, the third part in this series, will begin in mid-February.
With more than 100 local teens volunteering and 60 families participating, everyone has something to gain from the program, Moscowitz says.
“Teens are thinking about others. They take it very seriously when they’re put to the challenge to help someone else,” he says. “They’re doing it not because of any rewards that they receive, but out of the goodness of their hearts and to make the world a better place.” For more information on the Friendship Circle of Illinois, visit fcil.org.