Mackenzie Dorr’s commitment to the Friendship Circle of Miami started slowly.
Six years ago, she had to meet her school’s requirement to take part in a community service activity. So she chose Friendship Circle, a nonprofit that pairs special-needs children with volunteers to foster friendship and acceptance.
And she has remained ever since: Dorr said she fell in love with the program after she was paired with a little boy who was nonverbal.
“He helped me see the value of working with kids with special needs,” Dorr, 18, said. “It’s not just about what we can teach them, it’s about what they give to us. I’ve learned how to be a good friend, which can be something lost on our generation. And they teach us to be compassionate and patient.”
Dorr and close to a thousand other people gathered at the Chabad Center of Kendall/Pinecrest over the weekend to walk for a special cause. The Friendship Circle of Miami held its sixth annual Walk4Friendship Sunday.
The walk is the organization’s sole fundraising event. As of this morning, the organization raised approximately $125,000. That money funds the Friendship Circle programming, which includes home visits, sports, music, winter and summer camps, field trips and youth groups.
“With this program, we see an incredible bond between teens and their special friends,” Friendship Circle director Nechama Harlig said. “We hope people leave here with the feeling that they walked for a great cause.”
Kids and parents warmed up with jumping jacks and stretches.
Ernesto and Kelly Aviñó cut the ribbon before the walk started with their sons E.J. and Lorenzo. The Aviñós raised about $12,000 for the Friendship Circle. When Lorenzo was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with apraxia, a neurological disorder that affects speech.
“His brain processes speech, but it’s difficult for him to respond verbally,” Ernesto Aviñó said.
Lorenzo is undergoing speech and behavioral therapy, and his parents said participating in the Friendship Circle has been good for him.
“He feels like he’s in his element,” Kelly Aviñó said. “He’s confident, happy and excited to go to school every day. And he loves his friends.”
Local mascots Burnie from the Miami Heat and Sebastian from the University of Miami posed for pictures and cheered walkers on during the two-mile walk. Waves of people marched south on Southwest 87th Avenue and west on 118th Street through the residential area behind the Chabad Center. They cheered, laughed, sang and held up signs that read “Walk 4 Friendship.”
Families and friends later enjoyed a carnival with barbecue, cotton candy, bumper cars, rock-climbing, bounce houses, a merry-go-round and music.
Alexis Greenberg has mild cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder, but she has been seizure-free for 10 years. She said she must shield her eyes from strobe lights at concerts and she doesn’t like loud noises: “But nothing stops me from living.”
“I’m so extraordinarily proud of her,” Mary Greenberg, Alexis’ mother, said. “As she was growing up, I couldn’t imagine what she’d be like. She’s really outgoing, and she wants to do everything she can for herself and other people.”
Alexis, 36, has volunteered with The Friendship Circle for five years. She works with special-needs children at a Jewish community center and an early childhood development center. She’s also a member of Best Buddies.
“I try to teach them that they can do anything they want to do,” Alexis said. “They can help each other, they can make friends. I learned that I can do anything even though I have a disability.”
For more information about the Friendship Circle, call 305-234-5654 or visit www.friendshipcirclemiami.org.