You Should Know… Chana Solomon

Chana Solomon, 24, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., but has come to call Baltimore home in the past couple years since moving here with her husband, Eli.

Solomon and her husband are co-directors of an organization called Friendship Circle that pairs high school student volunteers with children and young people with disabilities. The “buddies,” as they’re called, visit once a week after an initial visit with the child, student, both sets of parents and one of the Solomons present. The Baltimore-area chapter is part of the larger Friendship Circle International, which has its roots as a Chabad Lubavitch movement.

The resulting friendship ends up becoming a source of excitement and growth for both, Solomon said, which is why she and her husband do the work they do. Even with this feature, Solomon said she wanted to do it so that more families and students would be introduced to what they do.

How did you get involved with Friendship Circle?
[My husband and I] are actually good friends with the ones who were running Friendship Circle [in Baltimore], and for various reasons the opportunity came up to keep running the Friendship Circle, and they asked us if we wanted to be
involved.

We were very excited about the opportunity. We came to check the area out, meet people here, and we thought it would be a great idea.

What do you think is so important about a group like this?
So, number one is the help we can give to the families [of kids with disabilities] — the feeling that they’re not alone, other people care, providing services that make a difference. The biggest program that we run is called “Friends @ Home” and it’s where we pair up high school volunteers with a child or young adult with a disability, and they visit on a weekly basis.

Many of these children do not have a social life outside of the school they attend, so this is something so exciting for them. They look forward to their friends coming over. And for the parents, there’s the feeling that someone else cares, that their child has a friend. And it’s so beautiful.

It’s very different from other services there to help these children, whether it’s educationally, physically or emotionally because this is just pure friendship. It’s giving them the feeling they’re just like any other child.

I see can why that sense of normalcy would be important.
Right, like no one is coming to “fix” them.

What’s an interaction you’ve seen that has been really memorable?
This is just fresh in my mind, but we have a little girl in the program who is adorable but is not in school because they’re not sure exactly of her disability, so they don’t want to bring her into a social setting yet. She does have physical limitations, but her mind works really well, and it’s really hard on her mom, who is with her the entire day. [The mom] always feels like she always has to entertain her or give her something to do because it’s really hard for [the girl] to keep herself busy.

Now that she has a buddy coming over, the mom feels like she has a little time to herself once a week, and it’s amazing for her to see how her daughter is interacting with someone else.

I feel like people don’t always think too highly of high school students, but it sounds like they’re really active and invested in this organization.
Oh yeah, we have volunteers from schools like Beth Tfiloh, Pikesville High School, Roland Park Country School, Owings Mills High School and just from all over. Like you said, people don’t necessarily look highly on high school students, but they’re the ones

giving up their time and giving it to someone else. And there’s a gain on both ends. It’s not just the child [with a disability] who’s excited for these visits. The high school students are so excited and look forward to it and are so committed.

Being newish to Baltimore, how has your experience been so far?
We love the place. I think it’s very easy to live here. I like that it’s a little slower pace. And it’s great that there are so many organizations here that really make a difference.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

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