Friendship Circle Gala Draws 500 to Say Thanks

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Howling winds and winter-like temperatures on April 3 could not keep people away from showing their appreciation for Friendship Circle, with 500 people attending the organization’s eighth annual gala at Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue.
 

Howling winds and winter-like temperatures on April 3 could not keep people away from showing their appreciation for Friendship Circle, with 500 people attending the organization’s eighth annual gala at Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue.
 
Friendship Circle is a Chabad-Lubavitch organization that pairs teens with children with special needs.
 
The event, titled “Start A Friendship Revolution,” recognized teen volunteers, Sandy Cozen and adult volunteer Emanuel Korn. 
 
“They were honoring Sandy, but really it is recognizing those teens for how they connect to Friendship and the difference they are making in the community,” said Philadelphia Friendship Circle Executive Director Zev Baram.
 
Cozen’s daughter, Sheri Resnik, often spoke about Friendship Circle, but she didn’t get involved until two years ago. She attended a gala because friends were being honored and was blown away by the organization’s message. 
 
“I’m sitting next to my husband and I said, ‘I’m in’,” Cozen said to the Jewish Exponent. “This is what it’s all about. We have so many kids with challenges and they are isolated.”
 
While she understood how passionate her daughter was about Friendship Circle, seeing it with her own eyes really brought it home. The chesed and tikkun olam that the teens show is truly remarkable, she said.  
 
“This is what the world needs more of,” she said. 
 
One of those volunteers is fellow honoree Emanuel Korn. Korn, 26, of Center City, began participating eight years ago, unlike most other kids, who start in middle school or high school. 
 
He got involved because his sister, Nechama, 23, has special needs. He knew how much it mattered to her and wanted to give back. Korn would go to events with Nechama and began to appreciate what it does for its members. 
 
“It’s very contagious,” he said. “There’s kind of like an electric force behind it.” 
 
Another volunteer is Annie Barson, 18, of Bryn Mawr. She started with the organization six years ago because a family friend in Connecticut has twin sons with special needs, Jasper and Felix, who are in the program.  
 
She did some research and decided to try it out. Barson did not know what to expect, but she’s glad she signed up. It has taught her to be grateful for what she has and to value her friendships. 
 
“You need to learn how to adapt and understand each buddy and understand their needs,” she noted. 
 
Two parents who can vouch for how much Friendship Circle has changed their families’ lives are Linda Miller and Sheila Kineke of Lower Merion. Miller’s son, Adam, 22, who has special needs, got involved with the organization 10 years ago. 
 
“I don’t think there’s anyone nicer than Chani and Zev,” Miller said. 
 
She explained whenever he has a Friendship Circle event or meeting with a buddy, he is overwhelmed with excitement. She added that it also gives him a sense of Jewish identity. 
 
Kineke has twin sons, Andrew and Lewis, 19, who have been involved with Friendship Circle for 12 years. At first the kids did not like it, but grew to love the pairing of the buddies and the numerous activities it offers. 
 
“It’s kind of like a better version of school,” Kineke said. 
 
She explained it’s different for each twin. Andrew enjoys the synagogue and JCC events on Sundays, while Lewis loves to hang with his buddy, Noah Notis. 
 
“He has taught Lewis a lot,” she said. “Noah is just down for whatever Lewis wants to do.” 
 
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