A Mom’s Guide to the Friendship Circle

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Detroit Mom partnered with the amazing people at the Friendship Circle to bring you this post. All opinions are our own.

Imagine walking through large glass doors into a solarium-style lobby with a gigantic tree reaching its branches up through the center of three stories. Surrounding this lobby are the names of thousands of people who have donated to or benefited from a beautiful idea that started in a small apartment many years ago. The soul of the Friendship Circle touches you from the second you step into their wondrous entrance and stays with you for a very long time after you leave.

The Friendship Circle is a non-profit based in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Founded in 1994 with only eight volunteers at the time, this wonderful organization now serves over 3,000 individuals with special needs and their families. It provides social, recreational, educational, and vocational programming. We had the honor of touring the Friendship Circle’s many amazing facilities in West Bloomfield. While I highly suggest going to see it for yourself, for now, you can take a trip there by reading all about how the Friendship Circle has made a very special place for moms and children with disabilities. 

Ferber Kaufman LifeTown & Weinberg Village

This building was built with so much care, thought, and research. Each room serves a unique purpose and the sensory rooms are amazing. As a mom to a non-verbal little boy with Down syndrome and Autism, I found myself brought to tears looking at the details in the sensory rooms. I also had more than a little fun jumping into the giant pits of foam balls because, hey, moms need to have some fun too.

For me, the coup de grace here was Ferber Kaufman LifeTown. Friendship Circle offers a fully functional ADULT-SIZED town! Ferber Kaufman LifeTown is complete with a bank, hair salon, roads with street lights, cafe, library, movie theatre, and anything else you can think of to make a little town complete! Here, they teach life skills, train for jobs, and provide real-life experiences to help ease fears and practice how things would typically operate at one of these establishments. 

As we walked through the town, we entered the dental office. I was immediately overcome with emotion knowing exactly what this was for. Tears of admiration ran down my face as I heard one of my fellow Detroit Moms ask, “Why a dental office?” Memories of taking my Benny to the dentist came rushing back to me. The sounds, the lights, the many people touching him, and how it’s all too much for him to handle. The dentist is not an easy experience for him, to put it mildly. But at the Friendship Circle, they built an entire place for people to gain knowledge of and comfort with a process that is difficult for so many people with special needs. Our struggles at the dental office feel isolating knowing nobody “gets it.” Yet here was a very clear, fully functional setup that screamed out to me, “WE SEE YOU!”

Farber Soul Center

The Farber Soul Center is home to Soul Cafe and Soul Studio. The Soul Cafe is operated by individuals with special needs as they learn skills necessary to thrive in careers in the service industry. If you’ve never tried their beet salad or dill pickle pizza, you are missing out! As a mom, seeing individuals with special needs work in a place like that gives me so much hope for the future of my family. As I sipped my deliciously brewed cafe latte, I envisioned my Benny behind the counter smiling and serving his guests.

The Soul Studio is an open-concept art space for individuals with special needs ages eighteen and over. The studio is filled with multiple forms of media to create and explore any type of artwork you can imagine. The gallery attached to the studio is a feast for the senses as you look through the amazing works of art curated by the artists that learn and grow in this space. One of the artists sat with us for a while as we had our desserts as he wanted to tell us what the Friendship Circle and Soul Studio has meant to him.

“It’s as though I am a seashell buried deep in the sand. I am just as beautiful as the other seashells on the surface, but nobody wants to dig deeper in the sand when they can easily find all the other beauty on the top. Friendship Circle was willing to dig deep down, find those hidden seashells like me, and show them proudly off so the rest of the world knows there is beauty below the surface as well.”

Dakota Bread Company

We ended our day with a visit to the Dakota Bread Company down the road. This is another facility belonging to the Friendship Circle that offers training and life skills to individuals with special needs.

As I munched on my delicious cupcake served to me by a very sweet woman who happened to have Down syndrome like my son, I felt so very blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know this amazing organization.

For a mom like me, every moment of this visit gave me sheer joy and hope for the future. For now, I am on a personal mission to make sure everyone in the Detroit area knows all about everything the Friendship Circle offers this world.

To learn more about how to volunteer, donate, or benefit from the Friendship Circle, please visit their website. Better yet, go have lunch at Soul Cafe! You will not be disappointed!

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Jamie is a Michigan girl since birth. Formerly born and raised in Dearborn Heights, MI, Her husband Mark and her live in Chesterfield and have three perfect kiddos. Benny, born in 2013, Ellie, born in 2016, and their youngest Norah, born 2019, are full of giggles and joy! Jamie works full-time from home for a technology company, and Mark is a stay at home dad. After Benny was born, Jamie became an advocate for the Down syndrome community with a fierce passion for caregiver support. She is the President of her 501(c)3 non-profit, The Down Syndrome Diary. This organization sends diaries around the world bringing together families whom have had a baby born with Down syndrome. The diaries are meant to provide support to these families as well as be a resource to new parents just receiving a diagnosis. You can find Jamie's voice all over Detroit Mom, or on her social sites. You can purchase her book, The Down Syndrome Diary, on Amazon with proceeds going towards donations of new copies to new and expecting parents.

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