By Joshua B. Abrams/Photography by Boruch Ezaguai
The Circle of Friends the notable organization-serving children and young adults with special needs in Fairfield County recently held an elegant dinner and fundraiser attended by a large and festive crowd at the Inn at Longshore in Westport, CT. The event is held to raise funds and to honor the over 130 Teen Volunteers who share a weekly visit with a child with special needs.
The organization is sponsored by Beth Israel of Westport/Norwalk Chabad that is led by Harav Yehoshua and Rebbetzin Freida Hecht since 1984 and the Schneerson Center for Jewish Life, CT based in Westport led by Rabbi Levi and Chanie Stone. Rebbetzin Freida Hecht is the founder and dynamic director of the Circle of Friends.
The evening ‘s program began with the recitation of the Rebbe’s Kapital read by Rabbi Hecht who extended greetings to the assembled. This years dinner and fundraiser was the most successful ever to date.
Positive Impact on Jewish Teen Volunteers
Circle of Friends hosts 36 event gatherings annually, held at the Beth Israel SHUL geared to bringing the children with special needs together for an afternoon of inspiration, music, song, dance, baking, sports, crafts and yoga.
These special events create a sense of community and inclusion for all involved. Periodic training programs led by professionals are also held for the Teen Volunteers, preparing them for interacting with a child with special needs.
A benefit of this program is the education of the teen volunteers and their families about people with special needs. The program draws teens from all segments of the community.
Many of the teen volunteers involved have little or no Jewish education and thus obtain and experience their first taste of authentic Yiddishkeit through their volunteering with the Circle of Friends. They also learn the importance of volunteering and doing acts of loving-kindness for another.
Since its inception nearly 700 teen volunteers have served in this program and many have gone on to Universities and Colleges where they continue their involvement with Judaism and Jewish life at the local Chabad House due to their prior positive experience at the Circle of Friends.
Among the corporate sponsors of the dinner was Tito’s a popular producer of Vodka that created a special Circle of Friends Vodka Recipe that was very popular with the attendees.
The Dedication of its Founder – Creates a Vibrant Organization
The moving force of the Circle of Friends since its founding in 2004 is the energetic Shlucha and Rebbetzin Freida Hecht the elder daughter of the unforgettable Reb Gershon Ber Jacobson of Algemeiner Journal fame.
What began in 2004 with only one child with special needs and two teenage volunteers have now grown in to a volunteer base of over 130 actively involved Jewish teens serving over one hundred families and individuals with special needs! Today there are Circle of Friends Key Clubs in the Public High Schools of Norwalk, Westport, and Weston & Wilton.
The assembled listened with great interest to the inspiring message of Rebbetzin Hecht who in a moving address expressed her thanks to the Al-mighty and for the inspiration of the Rebbe who sent her and her husband on Shlichus back in 1984. She noted that the Circle of Friends has grown to be a mighty force for goodness and kindness within the community. She also noted that the past accomplishments compels her to envision the future for the Circle of Friends as she outlined plans for expanding the program and the creation of meaningful work opportunities for Jewish young adults with special needs. In her inimitable manner Freida inspired the assembled that greeted her remarks with a spontaneous standing ovation.
Community Leaders and Elected Officials Attend
Greetings were offered by the Mayor of Norwalk; Harry Rilling and by the First Selectman of Westport; Jim Marpe and by the First Selectman of Weston; Gayle Weinstein.
Also attending were Judge of Probate and radio personality Lisa Wexler of Westport as well as Linda Russ; President of the local Federation/UJA.
Local clergy rabbis from Westport and Norwalk also attended, highlighting the broad community support the Circle of Friends enjoys.
The evening was also graced with the attendance of Mrs. Tzivia Jacobson the mother of Freida Hecht and matriarch of the Jacobson family.
The honorees of this year’s dinner receiving the Ahavas Yisrael Award were Dr. Stanley and Carrie Cooper of Teaneck, NJ.
Musical Genius Alexander Markov Performs
The world-renowned Violinist Alexander Markov, who is currently featured at Carnegie Hall in NYC together with his parents Albert and Marina Markov, presented an exclusive musical extravaganza. The performance had everyone’s rapt attention and the assembled marveled at the beautiful music being presented by Violin virtuoso Alexander Markov.
Noted musician Fitche Ben Shimon provided the musical accompaniment for the evenings proceedings. At the end of the dinner program a large dance circle formed as the men honorees danced with the men and the nashim tzidkoneus formed their own circle.
Delectable desserts and after dinner coffee and beverages were served in an elegant buffet.