Friendship Circle plans $13 million center

Friendship Circle plans $13 million center

‘LifeTown’ will offer recreation, training to special needs clients

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

The Friendship Circle plans to build a $13 million complex that will include recreational, therapeutic, educational, and leadership training facilities for individuals with special needs, its target audience.

Known as “LifeTown,” the 45,000-square-foot project will be located in Livingston, behind the Westminster Hotel on MicroLab Road.

The center of the project is a 12,000 square foot “village center,” where young adults will role-play at various professions with the goal of developing independence and life skills in a safe environment.

The complex, which Friendship Circle officials said will be the first of its kind in the region, was announced Feb. 26 at its annual fundraising gala.

“This is such an underserved population. There is such tremendous need even beyond the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive director of the Friendship Circle. “I believe this is a model for the future of our communities, an integrated center where people at the Friendship Circle are part of the community.”

The Friendship Circle, affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch outreach movement, provides services to families who have children with autism and other special needs. Its signature program matches teenage volunteers with children who have disabilities.

LifeTown is based on a model developed in 2005 by the Friendship Circle in suburban Detroit. Grossbaum said construction is expected to begin this summer, and is scheduled to take about eight months, with an opening slated for spring 2014.

Although he declined to specify how much money had already been raised, he called the amount “significant, in the millions of dollars,” adding, “We have a lot of work still to do. This is an ambitious project.”

The first LifeTown project was completed with input from educators, therapists, and other professionals around the United States and Canada, he said. Its curriculum, developed by Wayne State University, will be adapted and tailored to meet local community needs.

School groups are expected to use the center with their teachers, as they do in Detroit, where the center serves 3,000 to 4,000 people each year, Grossbaum said.

The site will also serve as headquarters for Friendship Circle, and enable the Friendship Circle to broaden its base of volunteers to include adults and opportunities for internships, he said.

LifeTown will be a separate organization from the Friendship Circle, since its services will be available on a nonsectarian basis; Friendship Circle will continue to benefit the Jewish community exclusively.

Friendship Circle is a partner agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

“Our goal is to create a center where people with special needs can reach their fullest potential,” said Grossbaum.

The fundraiser, held in a banquet facility at MetLife Stadium, marked 13 years of Friendship Circle in the Greater MetroWest area. At press time it was expected to draw 1,000 people, and would honor its 850 teen volunteers. The evening also honored Arlene and Arthur Leshin, Jaci and Henry Mandil, and Dana and Jeffrey Rappaport.

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