Teen volunteers reach out to those with disabilities

They have counselors. They have doctors. All they need are friends.

And this year, friends are exactly what children with mental disabilities in the Friendship Circle program got 62 of them, in fact -- as 62 teenage and college-aged Capital District volunteers visited homes of families that had one or more children with a disability.

These 62 volunteers gathered Tuesday, June 3, to accept appreciation awards for their service to the community.

According to Mazal Mardakhayeva, the group's volunteer coordinator, volunteers are paired up with the children with disabilities based on their personalities.

On Sundays, the kids can meet at the [Jewish Community Center] with all the volunteers and do art, music and karate," said Mardakhayeva.

The Sunday program, called the "Sunday Circle," allows the children not only to mingle with new friends but to get out of the house while doing so.

For some parents, having a few extra hours in the house to themselves while their children are taken care of and having fun is a great gift.

Julia Stiles, a mother of twin boys with autism, said, "For me, to just be able to do something once a month is great " and it's such a peaceful, happy time for them too."

Stiles, who said her sons, Robert and David, turned 6 last month, said that her family has been a part of the program since October 2007, and that they have volunteers come to their home, as well as attend the Sunday Circle.

She also said that the frequent interaction with the volunteers has opened her children up socially.

"My one son, David, is very nervous, but he's always asking to go [to Sunday Circle], and he draws pictures of his friends," she said.

Stiles said while Robert was diagnosed with a pervasive development disorder, David has high-functioning autism.

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