Sometimes teenagers can be pretty self-absorbed. Now, a woman who runs a unique organization shows us how widening their friendship circle with other children who have special needs is changing lives on both sides.
Like most teenage girls, these three enjoy hanging out, giggling and talking about boys.
“Boys are cute,” said Ellie Bolduc. 17-year-old Ellie has Down syndrome. She met Abby and Zoe through a non-profit called Friendship Circle.
“Friendship Circle is an organization that reaches out to children, teens and adults with special needs and offers them friendship and acceptance,” said Nechama Harlig, director of the Friendship Circle of Miami.
She and her husband saw a need and opened a center in Miami.
“We have children that participate that have Fragile X, children that have autism, children that have intellectual impairment,” Harlig listed.
The program pairs teen volunteers with kids who typically are very isolated.
“We were a little nervous, we were like ‘I don’t know if this is going to work out,’” said Abby Sekoff, a high school senior and Friendship Circle volunteer.
Then the girls started asking Ellie questions, and the answers surprised them.
“She’s in the same classes, she has like a crush, she likes the same foods we do, we play the same games,” said Sekoff.
“We grew to see how similar we were to Ellie,” said Zoe Tsoukas, a high school senior and Friendship Circle volunteer.
The impact on these teens goes way beyond volunteering.
“They stand up against bullying in their school, they stand up to help other children,” said Harlig.
Five years into the friendship, the girls say they’ve learned so much from one another.
“I think we’ve learned a lot from Ellie about being confident and putting yourself out there,” said Tsoukas.
“I love them so much!” said Bolduc.
Nechama encourages parents to push their kids to sign up for the program and be open and receptive to those with special needs. Friendship Circle charges $35 a year to parents to keep the programs running. There are over 80 locations worldwide.