Walk4Friendship events have attracted thousands of local residents.

Walk4Friendship events have attracted thousands of local residents.

File photo by Sean Work

Walk4Friendship event set to return in August

Event benefits individuals with special needs

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 31, 2021

 A past Walk4Friendship event takes place in West Bloomfield.

A past Walk4Friendship event takes place in West Bloomfield.

File photo by Sean Work


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Gathering with friends, having a good excuse to exercise and enjoying some sunshine are all possibilities that await community members Aug. 29, the date scheduled for the Friendship Circle’s 16th annual Walk4Friendship event.

The Friendship Circle is a nonprofit that supports individuals with special needs, as well as those struggling with isolation, addiction and family-related crises.

According to a press release, the Walk4Friendship is a family walk that “raises crucial funds and community awareness for Friendship Circle and the individuals and families the organization supports.”

Registration is scheduled to open at 10:30 a.m., with the walk beginning at 11:45 a.m. at the Farber Center, on Drake Road, and ending at the Meer Center, on west Maple Road.

The event can go a long way toward raising funds to help provide “recreational, social, educational and vocational programming to people with special needs for years to come.”

This year’s theme is “You Belong,” with the walk celebrating the belief that “everyone deserves friendship and belonging.”

Friendship Circle Co-Founder Bassie Shemtov said Walk4Friendship has been a “game-changer” and is the nonprofit’s largest community-wide event.

Aside from not having a registration fee, there are other perks for participating, as well.

“Everyone is welcome for free — free T-shirts, free food, free entertainment — which is different to most walks,” Shemtov said. “What I love about that is it matches well to the philosophy and the style of Friendship Circle, which is every single person belongs. If you’re able to fundraise or donate, thank you so much for making everything we do possible. But if you’re not, to be a part of our community, part of our family, come and learn about the beauty of individuals with special needs, what they bring to the table, what they bring to your personal life.”

West Bloomfield resident Michele Harris’ daughter, Stephanie, is one such individual with special needs.

Harris said her daughter, who is nearly 30, is “under the spectrum of autism.”

She has been a part of the Walk4Friendship events “since the beginning,” and she discussed what the atmosphere is like.

“It’s exciting,” Harris said. “The feeling of camaraderie, the whole atmosphere of bringing people together and making such an important change in people’s lives — very gratifying.”

Harris sells her art via the Friendship Circle’s Soul Studio.

Shemtov estimated that the walk is “2-point something” miles, and has attracted up to 5,000 people in the past.

She said all of the Friendship Circle’s programming is directly impacted by Walk4Friendship.

Perhaps the best part for those who participate is the opportunity to combine fundraising and fun.

“The energy and atmosphere (are) incredible,” Shemtov said. “The entertainment is something great for all ages. It feels very warm, and you feel like you belong when you’re there. … You’re a part of it; you’re wanted; you’re special.”

Harris said last year’s event was virtual.

For her, the opportunity to gather in-person again is no small matter.

“Not only is it important to the parents and caregivers, it’s very important for a lot of these special needs children and adults who can voice that,” Harris said. “Last year was difficult.”

Shemtov said that people are “so excited that it’s opening and it’s happening, God willing.”

“It almost feels like it’s our first time doing it — that’s how exciting it is,” she said. “We feel like it’s really fresh. It feels like it’s been two, three years since we’ve been together.”

The feeling of belonging may be one of the most valued aspects of the Friendship Circle for individuals with special needs, as well as parents and caregivers.

“It is sort of (like) being on an island with a special needs child at the beginning,” Harris said.

An event like Walk4Friendship can drastically change that perspective.

“You don’t feel alone; you don’t feel like you’re still on that island, sort of drowning,” Harris said. “To me, this was such an important part of my life and my daughter’s life. Besides just the walk, she has grown so much with Friendship Circle and Soul Studio.”

Harris took time to acknowledge the Friendship Circle and those who contribute to the nonprofit.

“Myself, my daughter, like so many other families, we are so grateful, so very grateful for Friendship Circle, Soul Studio, all the people who participate, and all the people who donate, whether it’s a quarter or a million — it all adds up,” she said.

To make a donation or to register, visit walk4friendship.com.