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March 13, 2014 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-03-13

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Carolyn Morris, Ronelle Grier and Jodie Jacobs, all of West Bloomfield, Stacey Larson and Hayley Snyder, both of Farmington Hills, and Tali Wendrow of Commerce Township

Friendship Circle's retreat creates lasting bonds for moms
who have children with special needs.

Ronelle Grier I Contributing Writer


By the time we left, a new sisterhood was
born, comprised of women so diverse we
might never have met if not for one common
bond: our children with special needs who
participate in programs at Friendship Circle
of Michigan.
The scene of our retreat was Riverwalk
Place in Gladwin. It was the perfect venue; a
spacious hotel/conference center with full-
service spa, luxurious rooms and suites, and
a gracious staff who took our midnight kara-
oke/dance session in stride.
The weekend was underwritten by
Susan and Gary August
of Bloomfield Hills,
whose sons, Matthew,
13, and Mitchell, 17, are
active Friendship Circle
volunteers. Susan, who
was invited to attend the
retreat, was so inspired
when she left that she
Susan August
and her husband set up
a $10,000 matching fund
to ensure that future moms retreats will

"It was a transformational weekend with a
group of exceptional mothers; I feel grateful
and honored I was able to participate said
Susan August "These miraculous women
don't just deserve a weekend like this; they
need it. It's more than a luxury; it's critical to
their survival:'

Kindred Souls

We came from different neighborhoods,
lifestyles, economic circumstances and reli-
gious denominations (Orthodox, Lubavitch,
Conservative, Reform and more). But none
of that mattered when we got together to talk
about our situations and share our collective
pain at having children with such daunting
I met remarkable women I did not know
before, such as Milaine Grossbard, an obser-
vant mother who has six children, three
with special needs. It was her first time away
by herself in 21 years, and her remarkable
strength and wonderful sense of humor
inspired us all.
"It was amazing to be with all these
women who have such different lives than
mine, yet we are so connected — we are all

standing in the same place said Grossbard
of Southfield.
My own daughter, Molly, who has autism,
is almost 27, making me one of the "old
moms," as we jokingly call those of us whose
children have been involved with Friendship
Circle since its inception in 1994. Spending
time with so many mothers at the relative
beginning of their journeys reminded me
how important it is to help each other along
the way, to share what we have learned and
to support those who have not yet walked
where we have been.
Another member of our group, Carolyn
Morris of West Bloomfield, talked about
what it was like when her son Sam, now 21,
was first diagnosed with autism.
"There was no Friendship Circle, no JARC
programs for children, no special needs
department at the JCC," she said. "I felt so

Nonstop Pampering

The weekend was planned in meticulous
detail by Friendship Circle's Life Town
Director Bassie Shemtov and staff members
Sarah Schectman and Bayla Blumstein, with

on-site assistance from staffers Chanchie
Shemtov and Casey Coden, whose fruit-
infused sangria and chocolate martinis were
cocktail hour favorites.
The spa treatment included in our week-
end package (my masseuse managed to work
out all the kinks) was only the beginning
of the nonstop pampering provided by the
Friendship Circle staff members. The wel-
come basket that awaited us when we arrived
was followed by a continuous stream of gifts
and treats throughout the weekend: pillow-
soft spa socks, beautifully wrapped silver
bracelets engraved with our children's names
custom made by local artist Jodi Warner of
Jodi Lynn Designs, Voss water bottles deco-
rated with our initials in rhinestones, electric
neck massagers donated by Homedics. There
were formal printed menus and programs,
and every gift and goodie bag was accompa-
nied by a card with an original poem. We felt
like royalty, far removed from our respective
daily grinds and motherly duties.
Delicious kosher fare prepared by Bayla
Blumstein and gorgeous magazine-worthy
table settings, courtesy of former Friendship
Circle staffer Riva Leibowitz, awaited us

Sisterhood on page 10


March 13 • 2014


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