Friendship Circle of Miami’s 11th Annual 3K Walk took place on Sunday, May 3. Walking4Friendship is a beloved community event that raises crucial funds and awareness for Friendship Circle of Miami, a nonprofit organization that benefits children and adults with special needs.
What made this event even more extraordinary was that 1000 people signed up to walk, virtually, from their home or a socially safe location.
Due to COVID-19, the popular walk transitioned to a virtual format. Instead of throngs of people walking in unity throughout the streets of Miami, participants walked the three kilometers individually, or with family and friends. Some people hopped on bicycles, their treadmill or did laps in the pool, all to benefit the Friendship Circle.
The historic walk had 1000 pre-registered participants and expanded beyond Florida’s borders and included participants from Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Georgia and Michigan.
Clay Ferraro, Local Ten’s Sports Anchor helped to get the virtual participants energized and stay motivated throughout the day.
A full host of virtual activities were planned and included:
- Rabbi and Nechama Harlig, directors of the Friendship Circle thanking everyone for the participation and support.
- Daniel V., one of the Friendship Circle’s special friends and a part of the Friendship Circle family for many years, sang the National Anthem before the launch of the walk.
- Next, came the Friendship Circle Virtual Band Choir with each member singing “Stand by Me.”
- Claudia Potamkin, a Friendship Circle board member and co-host of the walk interviewed Anthony Z. about his experiences with the Friendship Circle and the importance of having a friend and interviewed Adina Marroquin, a 9th grader and a third-year volunteer with the Friendship Circle.
“Walking4Friendship was a chance to show our strength in a challenging time and to walk with our virtual community across South Florida,” says Nechama Harlig, Co-director, Friendship Circle Miami.
“The feedback we have been getting has been incredible,” said Rabbi Yossi Harlig, Executive Director, Friendship Circle Miami. “People were moved and inspired and after weeks of self-quarantine it gave people a purpose.”
Historically, the walkathon raises a large portion of the nonprofit’s annual budget. “Due to the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the monies raised from this fundraiser are more important than ever,” Rabbi Harlig added.
The Power of Social Media
Family members, whose children benefit from the services of the Friendship Circle, all shared heartfelt feedback. Comments like, “Meant a lot to the kids” and “people care about me” were a constant theme on Facebook and social media.
April Stuzin, a longtime supporter of the Friendship Circle shared her progress on Facebook as did hundreds of others.“Walking on the elliptical now. Family walk soon.”
“We all need friends, on a basic level. The special needs community feels isolated most of the time. The walkathon funds will ensure that their friendships and connection to each other will continue without interruption. The joy they felt knowing that “typical” people made an extra effort on their behalf is more significant than I can say,” said Claudia Potamkin, Friendship Circle board member.
Feeling Connected to a Worthy Cause
Participants made a point to tell organizers how fulfilling the walk was on a personal level. “I really felt connected to everyone else. Because of social media, I felt like I was a part of something important and I was doing something meaningful,” said Russell Eckert, Chief Development Officer, Friendship Circle.
Like hundreds of others, Paul Frishman, CEO, Miami Beach Jewish Community Center and his wife, Caryn, participated wholeheartedly. “Caryn and I support Friendship Circle Miami. I biked and Caryn walked. We are proud to donate to this meaningful and very impactful community organization.”
Campaign Exceeded Its Goal
The funds raised during “Walking4Friendship” will support Friendship Circle’s many programs as well as its new community center, the region’s first of its kind, scheduled to break ground in early 2021.
“Our initial goal was $150,000. By the end of the day, we raised nearly $175,000 with more donations still coming in,” said Eckert.
“We are especially grateful to Bob Jofesberg, who was our top fundraiser bringing in over $18,000. In addition, Benedict Eberhagen, a high school senior, was our top volunteer fundraiser raising $1,650 for us,” Eckert added.
This year’s walk was presented by Milam’s Market. This year’s major sponsors included: Value Store It Self Storage, Fairholme Foundation, The Children’s Trust, and Berk, Merchant & Sims.
Friendship Circle of Miami
Children with special needs face many challenges, among them isolation and lack of relationships. They could have the best professional help, but they don’t necessarily have friends, don’t attend regular social gatherings like most and their classmates can’t interact with them in the same way as most children.
For the past 15 years, Friendship Circle has been bridging this gap through inclusive programs that help children with special needs develop friendships through sports, music, life skills training, summer- and winter- camp, yoga, equine therapy, and other exciting activities.
Friendship Circle of Miami is a nonsectarian, community-based 501(c)(3) non-profit that creates friendship and develops life skills for individuals with special needs through teenage volunteers and community outreach.