The Friendship Circle | Congregation Beth Am

The Friendship Circle

By Lexi Tuch on
February 1, 2019

Hi. My name is Lexi Tuch. I am a senior at Kehillah Jewish High School, and I have been a
volunteer with Friendship Circle since I was a freshman. Friendship Circle is an organization
which matches Jewish teens with children with severe developmental disabilities and creates
programming for them twice a month. These pairs are called buddies. For the children, this gives
them an opportunity to be social and join an accepting and unique community. For the teens, this
can be an eye opening experience that can completely change their perspective.

Throughout my time in high school, Friendship Circle has been my absolute favorite thing to be
a part of, for four major reasons.

The first of these reasons is Aiden. Aiden is super sweet and was my buddy from freshman year
until last spring. He loved going on the swings, and was always smiling when we listened to
music.

Aiden is autistic and nonverbal, but over time we were able to develop our own fluent
“language” that required no verbal responses. We taught each other songs to hum while we
walked, and danced to music he picked out. I was told by the Friendship Circle staff that Aiden’s
face lit up when he saw me, and I felt the same about him. Although Aiden and I seemed very
different, we became very close friends in our time together.

Being partnered with Aiden taught me that my job as a volunteer is to show our buddies that we
are here for them no matter what. For Aiden, and my new buddy Gregory, I would do anything
to help them and provide them with support.

Another reason why Friendship Circle has been such an incredible part of my time in high school
has been the amazing staff. Every staff member has been so helpful to me in both the tough times
and the easy ones. When my buddy was having a super tough day, multiple staff members and
adult volunteers were there for me and helped me navigate the situation. The staff is tireless in
setting up activities, recruiting volunteers, and creating volunteer events to help us get to know
one another.

The next reason is because Friendship Circle has helped me discover what I hope to do in my
life. After getting involved in such an amazing community, I can’t imagine myself not coming
back. Furthermore, spending so much time with Aiden and other buddies has sparked my interest
in psychology as I try to understand my buddy’s thought processes, decisions, and actions. In the
future, I hope to pursue psychology in order to help other people who need support navigating
their emotions and behavior.

The final reason why I am so grateful to be a part of Friendship Circle is the volunteers. Every
single volunteer is so committed to this program and dedicated to supporting their buddies. I
have had such strong relationships with Aiden and other buddies, but I am only one person.
Every one of the other volunteers in this organization feels the same about their buddies, and that
is what truly makes this such an incredible program.

This organization really is amazing. There are no words for how much passion and love is in
every interaction and every buddy pair.

When I graduate at the end of this year, I will look back at Friendship Circle as the best thing I
did in high school. I am so grateful for this organization and the amount of smiles and
warm-hearted experiences it has brought me.

Today, 1 in 5 people have some form of disabilities. Whether that is learning challenges,
physical challenges or some form of special needs, as a Jewish community, we must be sure that
everyone feels welcome and accepted no matter our differences.

Many people with disabilities have a hard time being a part of a synagogue, a typical school, or
just being included. It might be because the noise it too loud, they can't physically get there, or
are not typically welcomed into regular programming.

This issue has gained a lot of awareness over the past fifteen years, and many community
organizations have stepped up to try to help.

Friendship Circle is just one of these groups. They believe that all children deserve access to
meaningful experiences no matter their background, developmental profile, or learning
differences.

Another organization, Rosh Pina, works on certifying synagogues, JCCs, and camps to meet
requirements of special needs populations and help them become a more inclusive community.
Helping people with developmental disabilities has completely changed my life, and I hope that
hearing about my experience has made you interested in helping, as well.

To get involved, teens can volunteer with Friendship Circle twice a month, and families can
support their programs and volunteer for the Annual Walk-a-thon on May 5th.

Additionally, anyone can set up a special needs task force at their synagogue or Jewish agency,
making sure that everyone regardless of their ability is welcomed, accepted and included in the
community programming.

Thank you so much, Shabbat Shalom.

Congregation Beth Am
  • 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
  • (650) 493-4661 Contact Us

We strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).