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The Friendship Garden Mural

 My name is Sarah and for my Girl Scout Gold Award Project, I created a mural in the Valley Friendship Circle Garden. It’s origination was based upon Chanie and Rabbi Baitelman’s dream of creating a beautiful, welcoming, enjoyable and safe space for all ages and all abilities as well as their families and the greater community. 

On the left side of the 63 foot long mural is the Valley Friendship logo surrounded by handprints that represent people of all ages in the Valley Friendship Circle community. Several spaces were saved in order to provide opportunities for new members of the community to be part of the lasting mural. 

To the right of the Valley Friendship Circle logo is the Chabad of Studio City logo and Jewish symbols. The symbols represent different aspects of Jewish observance and tradition such as lighting of the Shabbat candles and a tzedakah box (charity, doing good in the world).

The rest of the mural is a beautiful rising sun above rolling green hills and water. The bright colors of the mural were chosen to create a fun and welcoming environment to make people feel happy. 

The Valley Friendship Circle community and others that enjoy this backyard have already enjoyed memorable weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s and other special events in this beautiful communal space. I hope my project will continue to create memories in the future.  

VFC 2013 Volunteer Appreciation Event

VFC 2013 Volunteer Appreciation Event

On Sunday, the 26th of May, the Valley Friendship Circle hosted a beautiful and entertaining Volunteer Appreciation Event for all of the dedicated volunteers at the Studio City home of Rabbi Yossi & Chanie Baitelman.

The tables were set beautifully with canvases as centerpieces illustrated by Alisha Tal depicting the theme "The Art of Giving" through an art pallet with the VFC logo. The volunteers enjoyed a full BBQ buffet, smoothies and a delectable logo-themed cake. It began with a video showing the many activities and events that the VFC has done throughout their 11 years in the San Fernando Valley.

Mrs. Chanie Baitelman, Director of the Valley Friendship Circle, shared a meaningful message. At one point she compared the impact the volunteers make upon the lives of their special friends and their families to a beautiful masterpiece, “the natural strokes you paint within the heart of another human being, the bright colors you add to their days, the patience you know it takes to create something with commitment and compassion, all blend together to form the most powerful message that has no words.”

Then, Moshe Branz, master illusionist and magician awed everyone present with card tricks, telepathy and above all with his metal bending ability. Moshe took the average fork and spoon and bent them with hot energy from his hands leaving everyone stunned!

An interlude with 8 year old Shneur Baitelman singing “My Friend,” composed by Moshe Hecht especially encompassed what the Friends @ Home program is all about.

One of the highlights of the entire program was meeting the affable and talented Andy Choueke – multi-media Artist. Andy has autism and is an incredible artist with amazing talent. He can draw anything flawlessly in just a couple of minutes! His mom, Susan, described his work as she displayed one after another of his intricate pieces. Andy's G-d given talents and capabilities reaffirmed everyone's belief in their abilities and in what they are doing as a Friendship Circle volunteer.

All volunteers were honored, and an additional award was given to those graduating High School. A special gift of handmade jewelry was presented to Tamar and Rachel Cohen on behalf of one of the VFC participants, 13 year old Jeremy Bernstein, recipient of the 2012 Naturally Autistic People Award who will be assisting in their new project: The
VFC Entrepreneurs Club. The Cohen sisters have dedicated time and effort to their special friends and VFC even after they’ve left High School through College and beyond. All the volunteers also received metal link strap watches with the VFC logo on it.

The event ended with a heartwarming message of one volunteer’s life-changing experience by Judy Leserman. Not only did Judy find meaning in the connection she made with her special friend throughout her High School years, she also found a greater connection to Judaism through the Valley Friendship Circle experience – changing from Public School to a Jewish High School two years ago.

The entire event was truly meaningful and inspiring. It was simply a great way to show appreciation and importance to each volunteer who put in countless hours to be a friend to kids, teens and young adults with special needs.

For the upcoming year, the Valley Friendship Circle has some exciting new programs, and two remarkable women on board. Marla Feinberg and Amy Leserman are helping plan many more opportunities for our programs, teens and families. We can’t wait to experience another amazing year with VFC.

By Adina Schuller (VFC Volunteer)

To view pictures - Click Here

Carly's Voice: Autistic Girl Answers Questions

My name is Carly Fleischmann and as long as I can remember I’ve been diagnosed with autism.

I am not able to talk out of my mouth, however I have found another way to communicate by spelling on my computer. (and yes that is me typing on the computer by myself)

Carly answers quesions about herself and autism. - from her site:

Q: Is there a question you wish someone would ask you but never does?

A: How are you feeling. People always assume how I’m feeling.  But they never really ask me.

Q: What’s the one word you would use to describe autism?

A: That’s a hard question.  I don’t think you can just pick one.  I think I would say things don’t always look like they appear.  Just because in your eyes I might not look smart does not mean that’s the case.

Q: What do you dream about? (besides Brad Pitt)

A: I dream about a lot of things like boys and food.  I don’t always remember my dreams but I do like them.

Q: In your dreams are you autistic?

A: Yes and no.  Some of my dreams I can talk and do things that kids my age do. But some I even have a hard time doing the things I can do when I am awake.

Q: Where do you get so much information about pop culture?  Tv?  Magazines?  Siblings?  Fess up!

A: I listen to everything that’s going on around me. If a tv is on and I am in another room I still listen to it or if people are talking I like to hear what they are saying even if they are not talking to me. Like I say all the time just because it does not look like I am paying attention does not mean that’s the case.

Q: Do you ever feel sorry for yourself because of your autism?

A: I think people are going to be mad at me if I tell the truth.   One of my mom’s friends said she always wanted to be like every one else because she felt different.

I think that is kind of what I feel like.

I would like to be like a normal kid.

I do like things about being me but I still wonder what it would be like to be like my sister.

Q: When you look ahead, what does the future hold for Carly Fleischmann?

A: I was in LA and met a friend who is just like me.  He can’t talk but he can spell.  I have a new dream now and that is to help people with autism find a voice.  Just like me and my friend Dov.  I think people turn their heads to things they don’t understand. That’s why people have a hard time believing I can spell.  But i know kids who are autistic  and can talk and people don’t question that.

Q: Carly, tell me about some of your favourite things? What kinds of books do you like? What kind of music? TV shows? Why?

A: I love food.  I like eating chips because they taste so good.  It takes a lot out of me to read a book but i like when someone reads it for me.  I like listening to Septimus Heap. It’s fun because I can picture it all in my head from what Septimus looks like to the castle gates.  I love listening to music. I like songs that i can rock back and forth to.  I like Kanye West but I’m told he is not better then the Beatles.  I like TV but it’s hard for me to sit in front of it sometimes. It’s too overwhelming.  I like to sit to the side of it and just listen. I love watching the Ellen show.  She makes lots of noises and makes me forget that I’m autistic sometimes.

Q:  Carly, you are a smart girl! Your parents say that you know about things like Ground Zero, AIDS and the Statue of Liberty. Where do you learn about these things?

A: Like i said i listen to things that are going on around me.  If a radio is on in the car or my dad is watching tv or if my mom talks on the phone i listen.

It might not look like i am but i am.

Q:  If you could go on a date with anyone who would it be? Why? Where would you want to go?

A: Brad Pitt.  Why are you silly?  He is very very hot.  Even Barbara Walters agreed with me.  I’d like to go to a restaurant. It’s easier for me because  most restaurants are loud and no one would look at me funny there.

Q:  What makes you feel happy?

A:  Food. Being at home. Playing games with my sister. Reading books with my dad and listening to my family tell my mom she spends too much time on the phone and she says she doesn’t and then the phone rings.

Q:  Can you describe how you feel inside? Do you think this is different from kids who don’t have autism?

A: The problem is I don’t know what other kids without autism are feeling.  I have fights with myself every day.  Right when I wake up to when I go to sleep.  I can’t even go in the washroom without telling myself not to pick up the soap and smell it or fight with myself not to empty all the shampoo bottles.

Q:  There are some things you find challenging to do like button your buttons or cut things with a knife and fork. Can you describe how your hands feel? Why do you think you can’t do these types of things? What do you think we could do to help you?

A:  Some of them I think I can do but it takes too much concentration for me to do.  To sit and even spell it is so overwhelming for me.  I need to take breaks and tell myself to do it.  I don’t think people really get how hard it is.  It looks so easy to everyone else but it’s like speaking three languages at once. Very tricky.  I’m getting better at it and I think as time goes by I will try these things again like how I type.

Q:  Do you understand everything people say the first time? Sometimes it appears you don’t understand what you’re being asked – is there a lag?

A: I do understand everything the first time.  It’s just hard to do what people want me to do right away.  I might be standing really still or doing something and it takes time for me to get out of it without me exploding.  A lot of times I have fits and people say I can control them but what they don’t get is they started them.  It takes time for me to switch what I am doing.  Even if it does not look like I am doing anything I am.  And when you rush me I can’t help but explode.

Q. I love reading your answers to these questions for everyone, Carly. I wanted to ask once, what is it like when you dream? Did your dreams change at all from before, after you began to communicate?

A.  I have always had vivid dreams and I don’t think it has changed since I have learned to spell. I have been told I have sleep talked real words before. It weird since I try so hard to talk and cant but I think the mind is a interesting thing. Do you ever sleep talk or walk in your sleep?

Q. I have a question Carly. How do I get a teenage boy to stop stimming all class? He says the teachers are boring and its way funnier in his head! I’m sure it is but he’s missing all his instructions and the lectures! I’m constantly redirecting him but he’s missing so much! HELP

A. Ok I need to clear up a misperception about autism. If a child is stimming doesn’t mean he or she is not listening in fact we listen better when we stim. I’m at a typical high school and I still stim in class. I just make it discreet like rolling a small small corner of a piece of paper. Look you all stim too. think of the drawings you make when you are on the phone or twirling of hair or pencils it’s a stim. There is nothing wrong with it but sometimes it’s better to make them discreet. What are the stims you do every day?   Really think about it, I bet you find at least one.

Q. question for you, Carly. Did you ever scream for what seemed like no reason? Like you showed a happy face, and everything was calm and relaxed, but you just start screaming? My daughter sometimes does it and I am trying to figure out why.  Thanks!

A. I love this question. She is audio filtering and breaking down sounds noises and conversation throughout the day. Other than the screaming you might see crying or laughing fits and even anger. It’s our reaction from finally understanding things that were said and done last min; last day; last month. SHE IS FINE AND TELL HER TO KEEP IT UP.

Q. Carly, I have a question, not sure if you could help. But would you happen to know why my 4 year old (who has autism), screams in the car every time we come to a stop light or stop sign? He’s fine and happy as long as the car keeps moving, but once it stops, he flips out screaming. An uncontrollable tantrum.

A. I love long long car rides it’s a great way to stim without doing anything yourself. The car motion the visual scenery flashing by it allows you to block out all other sensory input and focus on one. My advice is to get a massage chair cover and put it on the seat so when the car stops he is still feeling motion and not just stopping abruptly. You can even put a dvd on in the car of moving scenery.

Q. Carly, can you tell me why my son spits all the time? He does all of the other behaviors too…rocking, head hitting flapping his hands but the spitting is gross and it really makes others shy away from him. Any ideas?

A. I myself never spat as a child however I did drool and felt like spitting. For me I realize today I never really knew how to swallow. I know what you are thinking what is she talking about but it’s true. I never really used my mouth to talk and in return never truly worked the muscles in my mouth.  When you have saliva stuck in your mouth there is only a few ways to get it out and you do whatever feels most comfortable to you or whatever gives you the most feedback. Try giving him a candy to suck on for two weeks. It will work his muscles and teach him to swallow.

Q. Hey Carly, I have a question for you. You mentioned in a post way back that you have OCD and Autism. Can you tell which disorder is causing particular symptoms? How do you manage your OCD? have you gotten CBT therapy to address it, or is just being managed through your docs? What do you do to help yourself relax on a “bad OCD” day?

A. You are right. I do have obsessive compulsive disorder on top of my autism. I have not tried CBT yet but have been told that’s the best way to treat it. For me I think I have a underline reason for my OCD. I am working hard with a person to figure out the cause. Its hard having autism but even harder having OCD and Autism. As for what works best for OCD I’m still trying to find out myself.


Now My Child Has Friends

Friendship comes from friends, now my child has friends.
Through the Valley Friendship Circle, E. has been blooming. She has gained more knowledge about religion and excited for Jewish holidays, helps out around the house. With Valley Friendship Circle, E. can do activities and sports she usually can not do at home.
Because of E.’s friends at VFC, she is happier and confident. It becomes easier for her to make friends in school and invite friends over the house. She is excited to go to school.
Any mom would be ecstatic, like me, in seeing their child transform for the better. I see happier child, a new person.
I like the VFC organization because I like the administrators and volunteers. I send my only child off with the volunteers to the VFC events, and I know she is in good hands. I am comfortable to send her, and I do not worry; they take care of my beloved child.
If you ask E. she will say how happy she is and how she has a lot of friends.
A simple thank you is so small compared to all the gratitude I feel to the Valley Friendship Circle.

A Friend

Friends blog friend.jpg
A friend is someone we turn to 
when our spirits need a lift, 
A friends is someone we treasure 
for our friendship is a gift. 
A friend is someone who fills our lives 
with beauty, joy, and grace 
And makes the whole world we live in 
a better and happier place.
~Jean Kyler McManus


Friendship Quotes

"Friendship is the only cement 
that will ever hold the world together"
~Woodrow Wilson

"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand,
nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship;
it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when
he discovers that someone else believes in him
and is willing to trust him."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend forever.

Holland Schmolland

Holland Schmolland
by Laura Kreuger Crawford

If you have a special needs child, which I do, and if you troll the Internet for information, which I have done, you will come across a certain inspirational analogy. It goes like this:

Imagine that you are planning a trip to Italy. You read all the latest travel books, you consult with friends about what to pack, and you develop an elaborate itinerary for your glorious trip. The day arrives.

You board the plane and settle in with your in-flight magazine, dreaming of trattorias, gondola rides, and gelato. However when the plane lands you discover, much to your surprise, you are not in Italy -- you are in Holland. You are greatly dismayed at this abrupt and unexpected change in plans.

You rant and rave to the travel agency, but it does no good. You are stuck. After awhile, you tire of fighting and begin to look at what Holland has to offer. You notice the beautiful tulips, the kindly people in the wooden shoes, the french fries with mayonnaise, and you think, "This isn't exactly what I had planned, but it's not so bad. It's just different."

Having a child with special needs is supposed to be like this -- not any worse than having a typical child -- just different.

When I read this my son was almost 3, completely non-verbal and was hitting me over 100 times a day. While I appreciated the intention of the story, I couldn't help but think, "Are they kidding? We're not in some peaceful country dotted with windmills. We are in a country under siege -- dodging bombs, boarding overloaded helicopters, bribing officials -- all the while thinking, "What happened to our beautiful life?"

That was five years ago.

My son is now 8 and though we have come to accept that he will always have autism, we no longer feel like citizens of a battle-torn nation. With the help of countless dedicated therapists and teachers, biological interventions, and an enormously supportive family, my son has become a fun-loving, affectionate boy with many endearing qualities and skills. In the process we've created . . . well . . . our own country, with its own unique traditions and customs.

It's not a war zone, but it's still not Holland. Let's call it Schmolland. In Schmolland, it's perfectly customary to lick walls, rub cold pieces of metal across your mouth and line up all your toys end-to-end. You can show affection by giving a "pointy chin." A "pointy chin" is when you act like you are going to hug someone and just when you are really close, you jam your chin into the other person's shoulder. For the person giving the "pointy chin" this feels really good, for the receiver, not so much -- but you get used to it.

For citizens of Schmolland, it is quite normal to repeat lines from videos to express emotion. If you are sad, you can look downcast and say, "Oh, Pongo." When mad or anxious, you might shout, "Snow can't stop me!" or "Duchess, kittens, come on!" Sometimes, "And now our feature presentation" says it all.

In Schmolland, there's not a lot to do, so our citizens find amusement wherever they can. Bouncing on the couch for hours, methodically pulling feathers out of down pillows, and laughing hysterically in bed at 4:00 a.m. are all traditional Schmutch pastimes.

The hard part of living in our country is dealing with people from other countries. We try to assimilate ourselves and mimic their customs, but we aren't always successful. It's perfectly understandable that an 8 year-old from Schmolland would steal a train from a toddler at the Thomas the Tank Engine Train Table at Barnes and Noble. But this is clearly not understandable or acceptable in other countries, and so we must drag our 8 year-old out of the store kicking and screaming, all the customers looking on with stark, pitying stares. But we ignore these looks and focus on the exit sign because we are a proud people.

Where we live it is not surprising when an 8 year-old boy reaches for the fleshy part of a woman's upper torso and says, "Do we touch boodoo?" We simply say, "No, we do not touch boodoo," and go on about our business. It's a bit more startling in other countries, however, and can cause all sorts of cross-cultural misunderstandings.

And, though most foreigners can get a drop of water on their pants and still carry on, this is intolerable to certain citizens in Schmolland, who insist that the pants must come off no matter where they are and regardless of whether another pair of pants is present.

Other families who have special needs children are familiar and comforting to us, yet are still separate entities. Together we make up a federation of countries, kind of like Scandinavia. Like a person from Denmark talking to a person from Norway (or in our case, someone from Schmenmark talking to someone from Schmorway.), we share enough similarities in our language and customs to understand each other, but conversations inevitably highlight the diversity of our traditions. "My child eats paper. Yesterday he ate a whole video box." "My daughter only eats four foods, all of them white." "We finally had to lock up the VCR because my child was obsessed with the rewind button." "My son wants to blow on everyone."

There is one thing we all agree on. We are a growing population. Ten years ago, 1 in 10,000 children had autism. Today the rate is approximately 1 in 250. Something is dreadfully wrong. Though the causes of the increase are still being hotly debated, a number of parents and professionals believe genetic predisposition has collided with too many environmental insults -- toxins, chemicals, antibiotics, vaccines -- to create immunological chaos in the nervous system of developing children. One medical journalist speculated these children are the proverbial "canary in the coal mine", here to alert us to the growing dangers in our environment.

While this is certainly not a view shared by all in the autism community, it feels true to me.

I hope that researchers discover the magic bullet we all so desperately crave. And I will never stop investigating new treatments and therapies that might help my son. But more and more my priorities are shifting from what "could be" to "what is." I look around this country my family has created, with all its unique customs, and it feels like home. For us, any time spent "nation building" is time well spent.

Welcome To Holland

by Emily Perl Kingsley

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you TravelSmiley.JPGdidn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

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