“I had it all backwards,” says 15-year old Bridgette. “I thought volunteering would be about me helping others. But the experience has actually done more for me than I’ve done for anyone else.”
Bridgette volunteers with The Friendship Circle, a program of Chabad of Western Monmouth that supports children and teens with special needs.
She began about a year ago, while helping out at The Friendship Circle’s summer camp. It was eye-opening, Bridgette explains: I didn’t have any first-hand experience with special needs kids. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be or whether I’d know how to do things with them. I was paired up to play with Adam. It didn’t take long to see how smart and beautiful these kids are. By the end of day 1, we were all having a great time together. By the end of the week, I loved them and I they loved me.
Bridgette went on to volunteer in Friendship Circle’s Swim & Sports afterschool program, spending time with 10-year-old Rachel each Thursday afternoon.
“Playing with Rachel has taught me so much,” Bridgette said. “Rachel doesn’t speak, but she knows how to show me what’s on her mind. She’s also developed her own form of sign language. She’s resourceful – and strong.”
Bridgette describes one day when Rachel appeared to be agitated and unsettled. “Before my eyes, Rachel took a deep breath and walked herself over to a quiet place in the room. After a moment, she came back more relaxed and continued to play. It was incredible! How many typical 10-year olds have the strength to pull themselves together like that – or even older people? I’ve tried using Rachel’s strategy a couple times, myself, since then.
“Being a part of The Friendship Circle has taught me so much. Seeing these kids achieve breakthroughs, whether it’s swimming or socializing, has taught me to never give up on something I really want to achieve. I love that they don’t pretend they are happy if they are not. They express their true feelings and it reminds me to be honest with others and myself.”
When the two first met, according to Bridgette, Rachel seemed shy and did not want to play. Today, Bridgette says nothing makes her happier than seeing Rachel’s face light up when they’re together. “She knows she’s mine and I know I’m hers. It’s the purest kind of friendship I’ve ever had.
“You could say being part of The Friendship Circle has literally made my dreams come true. I used to wish I could make a difference in the world. Now I know for sure that I am.”