Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua received a standing ovation at a recent event sponsored by the Friendship Circle when he announced a $5,000 grant to broaden the scope of a program that pairs teen volunteers with children who have special needs.
In his remarks, he praised the 130 teenagers who work in the program, sponsored by Chabad Lubavitch.
Since he began working in public office 25 years ago, he said, he has been aware of the work of Chabad Lubavitch.
The year-end celebration brought together government officials, Friendship Circle children, their families, the teenage volunteers and their parents.
Tribute was paid to the teenagers who dedicate their time to the Friendship Circle on a weekly basis.
“Tonight is one of our most important [gatherings], when we acknowledge the commitment and selfless devotion of the volunteers,” said program co-ordinator Esther Grossbaum, who launched the Ontario chapter 10 years ago.
“This incredible group of teens spend time mentoring, shadowing or hanging out with their special friends, making sure to maximize the time they spend together while having fun,” she said.
The volunteers wore royal blue monogrammed hoodies given to them as a token of appreciation.
Yehuda Benchetrit, MC for the evening, said he was introduced to the Friendship Circle 10 years ago by his older siblings who served as volunteers.
“When I was about eight years old, I went with my sister to her friend’s house. I remember entering and seeing the beautiful smile light up the face of Andrea when she saw my sister. Ever since that day, I knew I wanted to volunteer for this amazing program.
“While this evening is a tribute to the volunteers, I am of the belief that we need to thank our special friends for giving us an opportunity and allowing us to build a connection with some of the most amazing individuals we will ever meet.”
He thanked the Friendship Circle for helping him learn important values and teaching him the value of giving and the gifts of friendship he received in return.
Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive vice-president of Chabad Lubavitch of Ontario, quoted the Torah, saying, “If, indeed, our commitment to a cause is genuine and not superficial, then one can scale a mountain with ease in pursuit of his objectives.”
The mayor, Regional Coun. Michael Di Biase and Coun. Sandra Racco Yeung presented each volunteer with a federal, provincial and municipal citation of appreciation.