In 1994, husband-wife duo Bassie and Levi Shemtov declared that they would dedicate their lives to social outreach, with a mission to serve people who experienced a sense of loneliness and isolation.
Fast forward to 2015 and that declaration has manifested into the Friendship Circle, a nonprofit organization co-founded by the Shemtovs whose goal is to provide individuals with special needs support, friendship and inclusion through social, educational and recreational programming.
“Connecting with an individual that has special needs, connecting with that shining soul within, is the best therapy and it’s the true acceptance that every person thirsts for in their daily life.” — Bassie Shemtov, Founder and Director of the Friendship Circle
The thread of their mission is leading with selfless giving and viewing a person for their soul rather than their outer appearance, Bassie says.
“Connecting with an individual that has special needs, connecting with that shining soul within, is the best therapy and it’s the true acceptance that every person thirsts for in their daily life,” says Bassie, who also serves as director of the Friendship Circle.
LISTEN: Friendship Circle co-founder and director Bassie Shemtov discusses the mission and programs of the organization.
Prior to the spread of COVID-19, the Friendship Circle operated programs that provided intergenerational friendship pairings through community events. One such program was the Soul Studio Art Program, a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association that paired young adult artists with seniors and ran art classes. The idea was sparked by the actions of Adam, a Friendship Circle volunteer, and youth artist.
“Adam was so attentive and hanging out with one elderly woman, whom I knew had Alzheimer’s and came to do art. And I thought, ‘Woah, he would be the best caretaker that I would ever choose for my parents.’ That’s when we reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association and we ran art classes,” Bassie shares. “I think everybody can gain so much from an elderly person that they may not have an opportunity to at home. Let’s not forget, the incredible gift and relationship that is given to the elderly. It’s such a win-win.”
Recently, in partnership with Lubavitch of Michigan, the Friendship Circle purchased the Dakota Bread Company – a popular bakery in West Bloomfield known for its challah bread – and transitioned the menu to kosher-certified offerings. The vision behind the purchase is to create a bakery training program that will equip adults with special needs employment opportunities. Bassie explained the training will teach life skills, time management, organization and customer service.
Between the program offerings through the Friendship Circle organization and the opportunities at the bakery, Bassie and Levi’s mission to be of service and curate caring for others throughout communities, continues to expand.
“It’s an important thing that I think is lost in society today. That being, having the patience to be with somebody who is elderly (and/or special needs) and to realize what we can gain from them,” says Bassie. “And at the same time, how important it is for the elderly to have the young people be a part of their life and bring that young, positive energy to them.”