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The Friendship Circle: Summer Camp creates sense of belonging for children and teens with special needs

While 14-year-old Conner would consider everyone his “friend,” he never had a true friend who wanted to talk or hang out outside school or programs. For kids with special needs, making friends can be very difficult.

But it wasn’t long after arriving at Friendship Circle of Michigan’s Summer Camp, Conner met another camper named Angus who he immediately bonded with over video games.

Conner and Angus spent the week continuing to form a strong bond and a real friendship. On the final day of camp, Conner’s mom, Stacy, arrived to pick up Conner. She stood in awe as she watched Angus ask for her son’s phone number. For the first time, another child wanted to be her child’s friend.

This one act might seem typical or uncomplicated, but it exemplifies the mission of Friendship Circle and means everything to children like Conner and moms like Stacy. It is one of several examples of close friendships that formed at this year’s Friendship Circle Summer Camp.

Friendship Circle is an organization that provides individuals with special needs the support, friendship, and inclusion that they deserve. Their 2021 Summer Camp was enabled with $25,000 in grant support from The Children’s Foundation and specifically focused on building connection and belonging for the children who participated.

From arts and crafts to canoeing and kayaking, water balloon fights and campfire stories, nearly 100 children and teen campers spent their days building confidence. Campers tried new activities, expanding appreciation for the outdoors and nature, engaging in physical activities, making new friendships, and practicing essential living skills while away from home.

“This program is a necessity for our community, especially with the social and emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive director at Friendship Circle. “After more than a year of isolation, the families and children we serve desired a community and a sense of belonging more than ever before.”

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