Strong winds Sunday morning didn’t stop hundreds of people from raising money for a Las Vegas nonprofit that connects people with special needs with friends.
The Merle family was out early at Bet Yossef Community Center, 8551 Vegas Drive, to walk a half-mile to a nearby park as part of the Walk4Friendship event. They didn’t expect the weather to be so chilly, Melissa Merle said. Still, she didn’t think it affected the turnout.
“People will come out for a good cause,” she said.
Her son, Phoenix Merle, was one of many attendees with signs supporting the nonprofit and friendship; his read, “Be Kind It’s Awesome.”
Funds raised will go to Friendship Circle, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with special needs make friends, according to Nechama Harlig, who started the organization’s Las Vegas branch with her husband, Rabbi Levi Harlig.
As of Sunday night, more than $103,000 has been raised from about 640 donors for Walk4Friendship, according to the organization’s website. The goal was $108,000.
Nechama Harlig had been involved in Friendship Circle in Pittsburgh with her sister, who has Down syndrome.
At Sunday’s event, Nechama Harlig said it was powerful to see so many supporters.
“If each one of the hundreds of people here make one single effort — be it at home, in school or in the workplace — to extend a hand, friendship, respect and dignity and take another look at them as an equal and see how you can cater to the needs of one another,” she said. “Imagine what we can create throughout the Las Vegas Valley.”
Lisa Rosenberg said she has seen her son become more confident and comfortable engaging in conversations with those he doesn’t know. Two volunteers visit her son Jacob Braunstein, who has autism, at their home. Together they play board and card games; occasionally Rosenberg allows them to play video games, Jacob said.
“It’s amazing to see his social growth in a low-stress situation,” Rosenberg said. “He was nervous at first. I think he learned you can let your guard down and make friends.”
“They really make a huge difference in these kids’ lives, including Jacob’s,” she said of Friendship Circle.
The Adelson Family Foundation sponsored the event. The Review-Journal is owned by the Adelson family.
How to help
To donate or to volunteer, visit lvfriendshipcircle.com or call 702-596-5790. Friendship Circle is under the auspices of Chabad of Southern Nevada.