Emily McCrone and Colin Stoddard working on a cooking project at a recent Friendship Circle for young adults event (Photo/Marissa Hacker-BayAreaFC)
Emily McCrone and Colin Stoddard working on a cooking project at a recent Friendship Circle for young adults event (Photo/Marissa Hacker-BayAreaFC)

Friendship Circle expands, extending a hand to young adults

The Bay Area Friendship Circle is widening.

The nonprofit that pairs trained teen volunteers with special needs kids and teenagers for weekend social activities is adding a program for young adults, set to begin in earnest next year.

Early this year the group began piloting the new initiative, geared toward adults ages 20-35, matching them with college-age volunteers from Stanford and other colleges. Already participants and volunteers have visited a bowling alley, an indoor trampoline park and other fun sites.

Program director Marissa Hacker said the initiative was established in part to address a lack of social activity programs for young adults with special needs. The Friendship Circle’s current programs end at age 20.

“A lot of families have children who age out of our program, as well as the school system,” Hacker said. “In the community, there’s really a lack of programming for young adults that provide them with social opportunities.

“It’s a hard age,” she added, citing a dearth of programs “for those transitioning into adulthood.”

The expansion was enabled by a grant from Alan Fisher and Barbara Sommer, in honor of Alan’s brother Jeff, who passed away earlier this year. The grant is specifically earmarked for enrichment for young adults with special needs. It will take place every other Sunday evening, usually with field trips to recreational sites in the Bay Area. Participants will engage in activities that foster social and living skills as well as independence.

Friendship Circle, a global organization, has outposts across the U.S. and Canada, as well as in the UK and South Africa. One of its organizational mottos is, “Friends are not a luxury, friends are a necessity.”

The organization has close ties to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. However, it is independent from the Chabad movement and has both Jewish and non-Jewish participants. The Bay Area Friendship Circle, started in 2003, is headquartered at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Directors are Rabbi Ezzy Schusterman of Chabad of Los Altos and his wife, Nechama Levin-Schusterman.

Hacker said between 15 and 20 young adults have been coming to the pilot events, with a volunteer-to-participant ratio of one to one.

“We’re expecting our young adult program to grow as awareness increases,” she said.

The final event of this year is mini-golf, scheduled on May 19 at Golfland USA in Sunnyvale. In part because of the positive response from participant families, the young adults program will become a regular bimonthly event beginning next year, Hacker said.

“The parents are very grateful to see that there can be a lifetime of friendship that continues on with their kids,” she said.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is a J. staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.