Organization creates lasting friendships

The Friendship Circle pairs students with special needs children and teens. teeiPhiladelphia.

The Friendship Circle’s co-founder Rachel Schweon with her partner, Annie. COURTESY PHILLY FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE
The Friendship Circle’s co-founder Rachel Schweon with her partner, Annie. COURTESY PHILLY FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE

The Friendship Circle is Temple’s only currently active student organization working with students with special needs.

“Basically you get partnered up with a child or a teenager who has autism and then we get to do various activities with them,” said Rachel Schweon, a junior speech pathology major and co president of the organization.

The Friendship Circle is an organization that works with special needs children ranging from 10-17 years old. Each child gets partnered up with a volunteer. At the “Sunday circle” meeting the kids and volunteers work together to complete a wide range of activities. 

“I found out about it through Temple Halal because they are the ones who run it, its through their program and no one has been doing it recently,” Schweon said.

“I love the organization because it creates a great environment for kids with different disabilities to come together,” said Emily Simons, junior social work major and co president of The Friendship Circle. “It incorporates Judaism and Tzedakah [social action] in one place.”

Schweon and Simons have both previously volunteered for the organization  in different locations. They both have a passion for working with special needs children and their goal is to expand the organization further onto Temple’s campus. 

The organization is Jewish based, but anyone is welcome to join. At the Sunday meetings, the volunteers try to switch up the routine by completing activities like singing, baking and arts and crafts.

“Hanukkah is around December, so we might be doing something for the Jewish holiday,” Schweon said about the groups upcoming meeting in December. 

Schweon said that the group is still looking for volunteers. They have several upcoming events, including an AIDS walk later this month and the meeting in December. The organization has a website where more information can be found for people who want to volunteer and even for parents who are looking to find out more about the organization. 

“My brother has special needs, so that is also a driving force as to why I am doing what I’m doing with my life and why I wanted to get involved with it,” said Schweon, an aspiring speech pathologist for children with autism. “They are the most honest, open people. It’s great.” 

 “I’ve always wanted to go in a profession that works with children with special needs,” Simons said. “I worked in the Life Skills classroom in high school and worked at a Jewish day camp that partnered with an organization that brought children with special needs to day camp. It’s always been a passion of mine.”

The meetings are normally held at a venue just outside of Philadelphia. The children and the volunteers are randomly assigned and often they are paired up differently at each meeting.

As of right now, The Friendship Circle is the only active organization on Temple’s Main Campus that works with special needs children. Both Schweon and Simons have been working hard to expand the group that they began to start back up last Spring. 

 “I think it’s a great program for the kids because it’s a safe place. It brings together children with different disabilities together,” Simons said. 

“Also, it allows them to learn about Judaism and interact with friends through games, crafts, songs, mainly fun. It’s not a typical school or learning experience.”

Julia Chiango can be reached at                                 

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