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A Friend Indeed for Kids With Special Needs

April 25, 2013 By:
Andrea Cantor, JE Feature
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Sarah Gordon plays catch with Friendship Circle buddy Rafi Winokur.

Mitzvah Hero: Sarah Gordon, a senior at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, credits her three years of volunteer work with the Friendship Circle for teaching her the patience, compassion and resourcefulness to bridge communication barriers with disabled kids.

What’s It All About: Friendship Circle aims to foster relationships between teenagers and kids with special needs. Sarah volunteers every Sunday, playing with special needs buddies for two hours while their parents gather for support groups. 

From the start, the 18-year-old Wynnewood student was thrown into high ranks because her sister, Rachel, needed someone to fill her spot on a leadership board while she spent a trimester in Israel. During her year on the leadership committee, Sarah attended monthly meetings that focused on arranging events, understanding the legal process of special needs funding and learning more about children with disabilities. Presently, Sarah is recruiting new members and planning events for the organization as part of a community service requirement for her school. 

A Learning Process: When first volunteering, Sarah said she felt uncomfortable. She recalled thinking, “they look so different than me, they must be so different than me.” Sarah’s current buddy is mostly non-verbal, so she had to strategize ways to relate to him.  She figured out that they share a love of sports. At school, Sarah plays on the basketball team and serves as co-captain of the soccer and lacrosse teams. Many Sundays, she and her buddy take to the basketball court.

A Family Affair: Volunteering is in Sarah’s blood. Her mother, Tracy, volunteers for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and is co-president of a parent association at Barrack. Her father, George, is on Barrack’s board. Sister Rachel currently serves in the Israel Defense Forces. The whole family, including brothers Jacob, 15, and Eli, 13, volunteers at the Friendship Circle.

What’s Next: After graduating high school this spring, Sarah will travel to Israel for a gap year with the Kivunim program. She said she hopes to continue volunteering for the Friendship Circle when she comes home.

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