Last month’s mission to Israel will provide staff and lay leaders from The Friendship Circle Pittsburgh a plan for moving forward, both in terms of an expanded audience and regarding the group’s newly acquired space, said executive director Rabbi Mordy Rudolph. The Friendship Circle specializes in providing engagement opportunities for children and young adults with special needs.
The April 22-26 journey, which was organized by Friendship Circle International and Friendship Circle of Michigan, was billed as “an important opportunity to bring leaders in your community on an exclusive trip and develop relationships that can be a game changer for your Friendship Circle.” Five participants from Pittsburgh joined the trip.
“We had specific goals in mind,” said Tracy Levy, The Friendship Circle Pittsburgh’s board chair. “Our current situation at the Friendship Circle is that many of our members with varying special needs are becoming adults, and we want to be able to continue programing and support for them.”
“We’re focusing a lot on our adult population now,” echoed Rudolph. When Friendship Circle members age, there is a desire to “ensure that there is a continuum and interface” with their established and familiar community.
“We’re in the throes of that conversation right now so it felt like going there would open our minds to seeing some new initiatives and ways of doing things and hopefully get us out of our comfort zone in a way,” said the rabbi.
“The trip was designed to sort of explore the initiatives in Israel for accessibility and individuals with special needs in many different facets, so it was a very sort of quick but thorough survey of what’s going on over there,” said Levy.
The group heard from Yuval Wagner, founder and president of Access Israel, a nonprofit organization established in 1999, “whose main mission is to promote accessibility and inclusion to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and the elderly.” They also networked with other leaders from Friendship Circles from around the United States and Australia, an experience Levy described as highly beneficial.
“It was definitely very productive,” added Rudolph. “It definitely got us thinking a little differently about ways that we are going to properly address this population.”
“We recently purchased a new building next door to our current building and are trying to find the best uses of this, so we are bringing back some information, maybe not answers, but helping us along the way to figure out things,” said Levy.
Moving forward, The Friendship Circle Pittsburgh’s executive committee will meet prior to a larger board meeting where both the Israel experience and potential uses for the new building will be discussed, said Rudolph.
Rudolph was quick to emphasize that the future is bright.
“I think the number one takeaway that we all had,” he said, “was the amount of human potential that exists.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.