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Michael has been one of my best friends for over three years. We go to movies, dance together, go bowling, talk on the phone, and do everything else friends do. You would never know that Michael has special needs. I met Michael through an amazing program called The Friendship Circle. The Friendship Circle pairs teen volunteers with kids who have special needs. They offer many wonderful activities and events and there is always something fun to do. One unique program is called “Friends at Home;” once a week two teen buddies spend time at their friend’s house. I was lucky enough to be paired with Michael. Every Sunday at 1:00 I would see Michael’s face peering out of his window with an expectant grin. When I first met Michael, communication was one of the hardest barriers to overcome. I soon realized that we would have to learn to communicate in nontraditional ways. I found that friendship revolves around common interests and I quickly discovered that Michael loved the song “Mambo Number Five" and dogs. After learning about his likes and dislikes, we were able to incorporate them while we hung out. For example, we often listened to “Mambo Number Five” on repeat while dancing and we have eventually added other songs like “The Yellow Submarine” to our play list. We frequently take his dog or my dog for walks and watch movies—one of our favorites being The Devil Wears Prada! And just like any two teenage friends, we talk on the phone. He calls me a few times a week, says hello and then quickly hangs up—often when I’m in the middle of saying something. I think that in a way, every single one of us has some type of “special needs”—some are just more obvious or difficult to overcome than others. It shouldn’t matter how someone looks, how they talk—or

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LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE: how they cannot talk, or what they can or can’t do and the Friendship Circle Community exemplifies this idea. At Friendship Circle events, all social barriers are broken and the most genuine kinds of friendships are formed. That is something that is very rare to find. My relationship with Michael has truly shaped the person I have become. I began my time with Friendship Circle as a way to participate in community service, but by simply “hanging out” together, Michael has taught me compassion, understanding, and patience. I have learned the importance of dedication and how to relate to people who have diverse lifestyles and abilities. As I enter college to study communications, I will use the skills that I have gained to relate to people I meet along the way. I am passionate about volunteering and I plan to continue in my college years and beyond. One hour each Sunday may not seem like a lot, but my time with Michael has changed my life. Not only have I made a best friend, but I have developed insights and skills that will help me succeed wherever life takes me.

Michelle Lurie is a Pittsburgh Promise scholar studying Marketing and Communications at Penn State University.

IdeaPod Fall 2013  
IdeaPod Fall 2013