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Friendship and Leadership

Shluchim Office’s Friendship Circle Division organizing first-ever girls’ volunteer leadership Shabbaton

Brooklyn, NY — Since its launching twelve years ago in West Bloomfield, Michigan, the Friendship Circle has become a phenomenon. The Chabad-based volunteer program, which pairs service-minded Jewish teens with children with special needs, has spread to 10 American states and four countries since its 1994 inception. A current total of 3,850 volunteers now operate under the leadership of their local shluchim worldwide.

“I never believed the success would go this far,” says Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Circle’s founder. “I guess we underestimated the power of selfless and dedicated teenagers.”

The Friendship Circle’s volunteers, ranging ages 14 to 18 (though some are as young as 10 or as old as 20), are part of 53 organized boys’ and girls’ groups whose members are shuttled during after-school hours, and on Sundays and other non-school days, to special-needs children’s homes in ones or twos. Once there, the volunteers–who receive special training–give their “special friends” an hour or so of playtime, therapy and all-around TLC. Most importantly, they give often-beleaguered parents a much-needed break.

With the program’s popularity leading to rapid expansion worldwide in the past decade, a demand for enhanced infrastructure was created. In response, Rabbi Shemtov and Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum of Livingston, New Jersey, director of the first-ever Friendship Circle branch, coordinated the creation of a Crown Heights-based international headquarters in June of 2005.

And now, a first-ever leadership weekend for teen girl volunteer leaders will be held Friday, January 26 through Sunday, January 28, 2007, at the Meer Family Friendship Center, the Friendship Circle’s flagship center in West Bloomfield.

The nucleus of each local chapter is its Volunteer Club, whose members are drawn from local schools, synagogues and other institutions. In turn, each represented organization has at least one volunteer leader, who responsibilities include much of the grassroots recruiting, publicity and activity coordination–and it is these young leaders that the Conference seeks to address and serve.

“I think it’s time to take the success of the teen volunteers to the next level,” says Rabbi Bentzion Groner, the Shluchim Office’s Friendship Circle Division coordinator. “The many ‘small’ acts of friendship are quickly adding up.”

Before and after Shabbos, volunteers attending the Conference will enjoy workshops on leadership skills, local club coordination, and enhancing medical/occupational training for special-needs children. Lots of camaraderie and fun will be had, too: Special entertainment and outings are planned for the three-day weekend as well, as well as the launch of an international volunteer leaders’ club to further enhance the sense of unity and purpose.

For more information on the Volunteer Conference, visit

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