Earlier this summer, a young boy named Sawyer was the only child in his class not invited to another student’s birthday party. He was also the only child in the class who has Down Syndrome. Jennifer Kiss-Engele saw this as an opportunity to educate her son’s class and the greater community about the importance of inclusion.
In a thoughtful letter to the mother of the birthday child that was later shared on Facebook, Kiss-Engele wrote about the similarities shared between her son and the rest of humanity: “People with Down Syndrome want the same things that you and I want. They want to have close relationships, they want to feel love, they want to contribute, they want to have meaningful lives, and they want to go to birthday parties.” The original Facebook post has been shared more than 3,800 times and has touched the hearts of many social media-goers across the Internet. Like Sawyer, many individuals with special needs experience social isolation. As Kiss-Engele points out, the need for friendship is shared by people of all abilities.
The Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh works to tackle this problem head-on. Through a variety of clubs, special events, and volunteer opportunities, The Friendship Circle aims to enrich the lives of children and young adults with and without special needs. Participating in these activities together allows members of all abilities to understand one another’s differences and create lasting friendships.
As of March 2016, The Friendship Circle moved to its new location on Murray Avenue. The new building boasts many unique features, such as a Teen Lounge, Green Roof, and Great Hall. These spaces will be home to previously popular programs, but will also be used to host new activities for Friendship Circle members. Expansions in programming will create new opportunities for participants to cultivate treasured memories and meaningful friendships.
In order to make a friend, you have to be one. This mantra is true not only for Sawyer’s classmate, but for all of mankind. The letter written by Kiss-Engele was well-received by the birthday child’s mother, who encouraged her child to make a special invitation for Sawyer. Similar to how this story ends, The Friendship Circle would like to extend an invitation to the greater community in celebrating our new building’s grand opening. The event will take place sometime in September, with more information announced at a later date.