“Do Amazing Things” was imprinted on the t-shirts–and that’s just what 2,500 people did Sunday, October 26, as they walked, Tweeted, Facebooked and Instagrammed their way through this year’s Livingston area Friendship Circle Walk.
From newborns in strollers to kids on their father’s shoulders, high school students to graduate students and young parents to empty-nesters, people from all walks of life and across the region came to LifeTown in Livingston to show their support for children and teens with special needs.
With a carnival-like atmosphere, they skipped, strolled, ran and jumped along the one-mile course that wound its way through local streets.
Among those in attendance was Max Lerner, 20, who was one of the first to participate in the Friendship Circle when it began in 2000. Max was joined at the walk by his family and friends, including FC teen volunteers Zachary Israeli and Joe Amster, both 15. According to Max’s mother, Heidi, her son was thrilled to see all the “people who came out to the Friendship Circle so they can support children with special needs.”
“It’s important to show our support to this amazing organization, that does so many amazing things,” said Max’s buddy Zachary.
The walk kicked off with remarks from several people, including Stuart Kahn, whose daughter Jessie participates in Friendship Circle programs. Kahn motivated the crowd and reinforced just what the purpose of the organization is.
“Jessie knows a few dozen words, and a lot of those words come from coming here… including all the words to [the Passover song] dayenu,” he said. “What an incredible impact this group has had on Jessie, on myself and my family.”
Families made up a large part of the crowd, making it truly a fun day for all. Indeed, throughout the afternoon kids enjoyed a plethora of activities including designing team posters, getting their faces painted, horseback riding, a petting zoo, rock wall and assorted inflatable rides and games.
More than 20 students from Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark came out to lend their support. They are planning to partner with the LifeTown project to create a learning experience for the students and Friendship Circle participants.
Raising awareness is one of the key goals of the annual event and one of the reasons that Kerry Goldflam and his wife, Eve, turn out each year. “We like to support the organization and make sure people are aware of what’s here and what’s available for the community,” said Goldflam, noting that his brother-in-law has special needs.
The growth of the number of walk attendees hasn’t surprised Goldflam because “this area has a lot of warm and welcoming people who care about the community and word of mouth [about the event] has spread.”
Among the first-time walkers was Stacey Tavel of Short Hills who came to the walk with her children.
What she found was a “very spirited community that’s very welcoming.”
The Tavels walked with Team Perseverance because “several families in our community are involved in the Friendship Circle and we wanted to support them.” She is hoping to become more involved with the organization in the future.
Steve and Ilene Sheris of Livingston were also first-time walkers and they are already looking forward to next year.
“I think this year we got caught up in all the energy of the event,” said Steve Sheris. “So many of our friends are involved with the Friendship Circle … and there’s a sense of communal spirit for a good cause.”
Sue Rosenthal of Randolph, whose grandson Charlie has special needs, agreed.
“The Friendship Circle is the most amazing organization in the world in terms of what they do for the children and their families,” she said. “They treat them like they are just like every other child in the world.”