Sundays have become special days in our family. Not because of religious school, or because of any particular family activity. Sunday is the day that Ben’s friends come over, per the schedule established by a program coordinator after due consultation with all the families involved.
You see, Ben is someone else’s mitzvah project.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the difficulty in finding a friend for Ben. Recent girlfriend acquisition notwithstanding, Ben continues to lack close social relationships with his peers. And it bothers him greatly.
Which is why, when I received an invitation from our local Chabad rebbetzin to participate in a new group they were starting, I jumped at the chance.
Founded in 1994, The Friendship Circle is a program that provides social opportunities for children with special needs. Taking as its mission the commandment V’ahavta l’reiecha kamocha – you shall love your fellow as yourself (Leviticus 19:18), The Friendship Circle trains teen volunteers to engage with children and teens with special needs. These encounters enrich the lives of the kids and their families, and those of the teen volunteers as well.
There are nearly eighty communities around the world that independantly run, and fund, Friendship Circle programs. Depending on the particular needs of the local community, as well as the available funding, the program can vary. One offers a 5,000 square-foot, true-to-life cityscape where students with disabilities from 200 schools in 54 school districts are given the opportunity to practice acting independently in the outside world. Others, like ours, focus on the “Friends at Home” program.
And that’s why on any given Sunday, Ben is up, dressed and ready to go in the early hours. Because Sunday is now “BenAndSamDay.” (One of the volunteers is also named Ben. Which is slightly confusing but in that funny way that always makes (my) Ben laugh as I struggle to remember to say “my Ben” or “Ben Schorr” for the purposes of clarification.)
Ben and Sam, our teen “friends” come to our home for an hour or so and just hang out. They play video games with (my) Ben, or Legos. They listen to music. They take walks. Sometimes they have water gun fights or make snacks together in the kitchen. In other words, they do the stuff teenage guys do.
I get to relax and eavesdrop. I hear my sweet son laughing and joking and having fun with kids his own age.
My heart swells.
With joy – that my son gets to experience life’s joys.
With sorrow – that his joy is the product of someone’s volunteer project.
With gratitude – that such a program exists, and that such menchy young men have come into my son’s life and given him acceptance and friendship.
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow whose work appears regularly on the Rabbis Without Borders blog and Kveller.com as well as a variety of other websites. Writing at This Messy Life (www.rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com), Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr