Finally, a reason for a kid to take a break from texting, hanging at the mall or wasting yet another two hours on an inane holiday blockbuster. Instead, Jewish middle and senior high school–age teens can now volunteer their time as mentors for Jewish special-needs children — befriending, mentoring, teaching and having fun via arts and crafts, Judaic education, sports programming, camps and field trips. The local Friendship Circle chapter (the umbrella organization began 20 years ago and has 70 chapters worldwide) has for the past six years encouraged young people to give of themselves to their community. The opportunities are plentiful and fit most individual schedules, according to Gail Rollman, FC director of public relations. If students can only commit to a biweekly visit, or working on Sundays, or as part of the winter camp program, it's a match! “Teens choose an activity and program that works for them,” Rollman explains. But once they've volunteered with the Friendship Circle, their commitment will likely grow. “It's contagious. It feels so great to give to another human being that the kids ask, 'What else can I do?' I've seen kids change their career paths as a result of their volunteer experience, opting for professions as psychologists and speech therapists.” No one sinks; everyone swims, as volunteers are trained to be with children who may have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or behavioral issues, for instance. “Training sessions throughout the year include an expert in the field, who offers volunteers additional tools: How do you respond to a situation with your child? What kind of language, or redirection can they use to enrich the experience?” The program is enhanced by effective communication. “We pride ourselves on keeping in touch with the volunteers. We ask how the match is going, if there are problems or concerns, and then address them,” Rollman adds. The year-end banquets, awards and scholarships to thank the volunteers are indeed rewarding, but reaching out to new friends is probably the icing on the cake. 9581 W. Pico Blvd., #102, L.A. (310) 277-FCLA.

—Karre Jacobs

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