Sophie Levin, a teenaged volunteer with Philly Friendship Circle, was a talkative kid who loved to communicate. Ally Abramson, a teen with disabilities, also yearned to connect, but was totally non-verbal. As a result, she’d been largely overlooked by her peers. However, the very first time the two girls met, Ally could tell Sophie wasn’t phased.

“My first impression of Sophie was that she was nervous,” remembers Ally, speaking through a computerized voice generator. “[But] I felt comfortable with her because I could sense that she really wanted to get to know me.” Thus began a years-long friendship that’s meant a great deal to both girls. Each has learned valuable lessons from the other — all part of the Friendship Circle’s goal.

Our Jewish Federation-supported Philly Friendship Circle pairs neurotypical kids with kids with disabilities, so they can build inclusive, authentic relationships. Founded by Chabad, the organization aims to help kids cultivate positive qualities like understanding, kindness and responsibility in order to help build a Jewish community that embraces everyone, regardless of difference, and recognizes each person’s ability to contribute. Their Friends@Home program matches teens with similar interests for one-on-one get-togethers, where they can play games, do sports, make crafts or just hang out in a cozy home setting. Their most popular program, Sunday Circle, meets most Sundays with activities for children and teens with and without disabilities, all designed to promote connection.

Over 300 local kids participated in Philly Friendship Circle this past year. And by opening themselves up to friendships with people different from themselves, they also open themselves up to powerful growth. Sophie, for example, has learned that in order to meaningfully communicate, you don’t necessarily need to be a chatterbox. Since Ally expresses herself largely through making noises and faces, Sophie learned how to slow down and pay attention to body language. Ally has benefitted from their friendship, too. “I like being able to play with Sophie because she is trying to understand me,” she says, “and that is what friendship is all about.”

The Philly Friendship Circle’s annual Friendship Walk to raise funds and awareness will take place on October 6th, featuring a one-mile accessible walk and family-friendly entertainment and activities. For more information or to register, click here. To learn more about the ways our Jewish Federation supports people living with disabilities, click here.