By: Jill MerrickMerrick_PROTECT.JPG

Q: When were you involved with The Friendship Circle, and in which programs did you participate?

A: I volunteered with FCIL between 2010 and 2012. During my time, the main program that I participated in was Friends@Home, where once a week I would visit the home of an individual who had special needs and spend time with him. I participated in this program for three years, and during that time I developed a strong friendship with my buddy. The activities of our weekly visits ranged from just spending time at his house together to walking to a nearby restaurant for dinner. One time we even went to the Planetarium since he loved space — I think both of us still think of this outing as one of the highlights of our friendship. Six years later, I still see my buddy when I go home for the holidays and I really value our friendship. Throughout this time, I also participated in other programs such as the cooking program and holiday events.

Q: What did FC help you learn about individuals with disabilities?

A: Volunteering with the Friendship Circle helped me focus on the aspects of myself that were similar to those with disabilities rather than those that were different. Yes, there were differences between my buddy and me, but there were also so many similarities that I learned to appreciate. For example, how much we both liked to order french fries and talk about our lives when we went out for dinner together. Friendship Circle helped me learn that while it is easy to recognize the differences that we may have with individuals with disabilities, there are also many similarities that we often do not think about. Now, when I meet individuals with disabilities, I try to focus on our shared interests and other commonalities, for I understand that they likely exist. Using this approach, I believe that everyone gets more out of the relationship.

Q: How did your time with FC impact your professional decisions?

A: I am currently pursuing a PhD in Clinical Child Psychology at the University of Denver. My time working with the Friendship Circle made me realize that I truly valued hearing the perspectives of others and helping them work through the difficulties that they were facing. I also (although I don’t think I realized it at the time) saw many examples of resilience – of people who were facing challenges in their own lives and yet continuing to exhibit happiness and lives characterized by good outcomes. I currently study resilience in high-risk individuals and families. While I am now working with a different group of people, I continue to reflect on the lessons I learned about myself and my interests at the Friendship Circle throughout my research and clinical work.

Q: What did it teach you about giving back to the community and helping others?

A: My work with the Friendship Circle put me on a path to understanding the importance of community work and helping others. While we all differ in the resources we have, we also all have something to offer to somebody, and I believe it is our duty to do so. I now volunteer at a local Boys and Girls Club and have been doing so for the last three years. Again, while the group I work with now differs, the values and lessons that I originally learned at the Friendship Circle continue to stay with me. Through my research and my volunteer work, I strive to give back to the community and to help others.

Q: What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a Friendship Circle volunteer?

A: I would encourage anyone who is considering becoming a Friendship Circle volunteer to take advantage of the opportunity. There is so much to learn by working with individuals with disabilities, and your buddy will have so much to offer and to teach you. An experience like working with the Friendship Circle isn’t one you will come across often, but it is one that can have a huge impact on you!