The average starting bid for Gavi Becker’s artwork was $50. Not bad for a fourth-grader.
The 10-year-old finds comfort in coloring with various tones of red, according to his mother, Miriam Becker, and he works in various mediums: coloring, painting, crafting. Gavi is able to express his creativity—and his Jewish pride—through Friendship Circle.
To support an organization that works so hard on behalf of children with special needs and their families, more than 200 people gathered at the rustic Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Bayside, Wis., on Jan. 25 for an inaugural event called “Art4Friendship.” The local Friendship Circle, an international Chabad-affiliated organization that pairs teenage volunteers and children with special needs, is a division of Lubavitch of Wisconsin.
The evening featured various types of art for sale created by children and adults with special needs, with ceramics, paintings and other pieces auctioned off to the highest bidders. A total of 75 items were up for sale—65 as part of a silent auction and 10 in a live auction that had hands raised and waving in the air. Some 95 percent of it was art, with a few other items thrown in.
Alan Turner attended the event with his daughter Lisa, who has special needs. Far more than just an evening out, he feels good knowing that she has a safe and nurturing place to go to on a regular basis—a place to be herself, a place where she’s not alone.
Friendship Circle, he says, “has given Lisa independence and confidence to do activities she never would have participated in if it weren’t for this organization. I’m proud of her and grateful she has true friends.”
True friends, that’s what Friendship Circle creates. Imagine living most of your childhood and never having one. That’s what one parent expressed to LeahStein, co-director of Friendship Circle in Milwaukee with her husband, Rabbi Levi Stein. “This mother called me up in tears. Because of Friendship Circle, this child, a teenager, made his first friend. For that mom, this moment meant that her child finally had someone outside of family who cared and saw him as a unique, wonderful person.”
Attendees were also treated to the soulful sounds of violin music, topped off with the resonant singing of Cantor Aryeh Leib Hurwitz. One piece he performed—“My Friend,” written by singer and songwriter Rabbi Moshe Hecht of Brooklyn, N.Y.—was composed for the organization and offers a special message about the transformative power of friendship.
“Friendship Circle stands out from other Jewish organizations because it enables children to have a year-round platform to live life to its fullest,” said Hurwitz. “It touches a special place in my heart.”
‘A New Set of Lenses’
One of the featured speakers, 20-year-old Stephanie Phillips, who started volunteering when she was 11, emphasized similar sentiments. “My first experience with Friendship Circle was the beginning of the most meaningful part of my life. It became the driving force—my purpose on this earth to make a difference for others. The people I met became my second family. Today, I’m studying special education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater because of these experiences.
“I call on everyone to find a way to make a difference by doing something positive to impact their community,” continued Phillips. “Through an act of kindness, everyone has that ability.”
The Steins affirmed that they aim to change the world, one friendship at a time. “Whatever our external differences,” said Leah Stein, “Friendship Circle is about the essence of the soul. We are fitting society with a new set of lenses so that people see that every human being is brought into this world for a mission.”
A major announcement came after the performance, speeches and auction: Friendship Circle of Wisconsin will open a bakery this spring. The new development will provide a valuable experience for adults with special needs, allowing them to gain skills in a workplace environment by helping bake and package fresh items. The kosher baked goods will be available for purchase at local grocery stores.
“This is just one more step in the right direction,” said Rabbi Stein. “We won’t rest until we serve everyone who needs assistance in this community.”