Welcome to one of happiest places on Earth (and no, it’s not Disneyland). It’s called the Friendship Circle and it is right here in Orange County. The Friendship Circle is a non-profit organization that is geared towards children and adults with special needs and their families. It was founded in 2006, and in last decade has grown to become the largest program in the O.C. to cater specifically to this often overlooked group.
Individuals with special needs and their families are faced with unique challenges—not just at home, but out and about as well. Just planning a day out involves much pre-planning and vetting for destinations equipped to handle someone with special needs. Well, the Friendship Circle takes the legwork out and makes things much easier for these families. It also provides a unique volunteer opportunity at the same time.
Specifically, the Friendship Circle focuses on the pairing of local teenagers with children and adults with special needs. These volunteers come straight to the kids for home visits and the program extends from there to a full range of activities and events as well. Every visit, every event and every program facet is focused on enriching the lives of individuals with special needs (and their families too).
Providing therapy for children with special needs can be tricky because there is such a wide range of disabilities. A cookie cutter approach just doesn’t apply here. Instead, a differentiated approach is the best way to ensure that each child gets the attention they need. The Friendship Circle shines in this regard because they have many different ways to connect. The non-profit organization’s philosophy is that, “by integrating the wisdom of professionals and the energetic spirit of teenagers, The Friendship Circle brings out the best from within all of those involved.”
So bring on the teens! They’ve got all the energy many of us have lost and an innate pioneering spirit. What’s more is that the young volunteers are many times able to connect with these children in ways other therapy can not. They really make a difference in these children’s (and their families) lives. Whether it’s swinging by the house for some one-on-one time or a fun-filled day at the park, the Friendship Circle has something for everyone.
One great example of the programs The Friendship Circle provides is the Sunday Circle. The day is filled with a variety of both indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy (with all the equipment and materials included). Sometimes just giving the kids a day to play gives their parents the small “break” they didn’t even realize they needed. It can even give them a block of time to have a nice Sunday “date” to catch up and recharge.
And it’s not just the kids and parents that benefit either. The teenagers that volunteer come away with life-changing experiences as well. It instills them with the values of giving and gratitude, which are attributes that can last a lifetime.
So the next time you are looking for a fun, local option for you and your family, come join the Circle. For information on the Friendship Circle and how you can become a volunteer please visit
Tracey is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.