Friendship Circle celebrates its ‘Miracle Workers’
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Friendship Circle celebrates its ‘Miracle Workers’

Esti Grossbaum, Junior Division program director, left, with program director Chavi Rosenblum; volunteer June Schechner, the recipient of the President’s Lifetime Achievement award; executive director Toba Grossbaum; and Rabbis Zalman and Levi Grossbaum. (Courtesy Friendship Circle)
Esti Grossbaum, Junior Division program director, left, with program director Chavi Rosenblum; volunteer June Schechner, the recipient of the President’s Lifetime Achievement award; executive director Toba Grossbaum; and Rabbis Zalman and Levi Grossbaum. (Courtesy Friendship Circle)

For the first time since 2019, the Friendship Circle Volunteer Celebration met in person. This year’s celebration, honoring teen and adult volunteers, drew 250 people. The dedicated volunteers celebrated on May 25 help make sure the people with special needs have a chance to socialize with peers and engage in enriching activities.

The evening included the presentation of the Rita and Jerry Waldor Fellowship award, recognizing hundreds of teen volunteers who power the Friendship Circle every week. The fellowship, which comes with an Israel Bond, and the annual celebration was endowed this year by the Waldor family.

Zach Warter, a graduating senior at Livingston High School, kicked off the festivities. A longtime volunteer, he had a brother who was part of the Friendship Circle family but died unexpectedly; the LifeTown football field (Ryan’s Field) is named in honor of his brother. “I feel extraordinarily lucky to have grown up with you all by my side as part of my journey,” Zach said.

Rabbi Levi Grossbaum, Friendship Circle’s director of operations, lauded the teens and adults for their efforts during covid and beyond, calling them “strong, tenacious, creative, and dedicated beyond the ordinary.” This year, FCNJ recognized one of its extraordinary adult volunteers. June Schechner of Short Hills, who has volunteered more than 5,000 hours for Friendship Circle, received the President’s Lifetime Achievement award. The award, presented to just a handful of people across the country each year, marked Ms. Schechner’s deep commitment to Friendship Circle. “You’ve all impacted my life so much and taught me so much,” she said. “I just want to leave you with one thought: think good and it will be good.”

A highlight of the evening was a conversation with Michael Josephs, a bone marrow transplant recipient, and his donor, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, FCNJ’s CEO. The conversation revealed a series of unexpected happenings related to the transplant. “Just hold out your hand to help someone in need, and God will do the rest,” Rabbi Grossbaum said.

Allison Josephs, the founder of Jew in the City, moderated the conversation. Her family has a longtime relationship with the Grossbaums, and only recently reconnected with their cousin Michael, only to find their shared connection to Zalman. The discussion about seeing “a wink from God in our life” included a surprise reunion between Michael, and Allison’s father, Dr. Allan Josephs, who had not seen each other in 50 years.

The President’s Volunteer Service award, which goes to people who show exceptional dedication to volunteering, was presented to seven teen volunteers. Volunteers up to 15 years old must complete at least 50 hours of service, and those over 15 must complete at least 100 hours of service to earn the award. This year’s recipients are Lexi Algazy, Matthew Cohen, Harrison Handler, Eric Helwell, Jonah Ladetsky, Naomi Rosenbluth, and Rachel Yonteff.

“Volunteers are the heart and soul of Friendship Circle,” Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum said. “Their dedication to programs, to the children and families, make miracles happen.”

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