Countdown Nears As Jewish Non-Profit Competes for $1-Million Prize

Countdown Nears As Jewish Non-Profit Competes for $1-Million Prize

by Amy Klein - Bloomfield, MI

January 20, 2010

( There are only three days left to get out the (Facebook) vote and help the sole Jewish non-profit competing to win $1 million dollars take the prize.

The Michigan branch of The Friendship Circle, a non-profit project that provides assistance and support to families of children with special needs, has made it to the final round of the Facebook-based Chase Community Giving Challenge, which closes Friday at midnight.

The challenge offers a top prize of $1 million dollars and five prizes of $100,000 each to the charities that garner the most votes through Facebook, the online social network.

“Together we're exploring a new way of charitable giving – harnessing the power of social networking to give individuals and corporations a voice in corporate philanthropy,” the Chase Community Giving mission explains. It hopes to fund a “Big Idea.”

A non-sectarian organization that serves 3,000 families of children with special needs, with 450 adult volunteers and 450 teen volunteers, Friendship Circle  made it to the final 100 for the second and final round last month. When the finals opened at midnight of January 15, Friendship Circle hit #3, but with Shabbos in between when FC asked voters not to violate the Sabbath by voting, it dropped down to #9.

Now, with almost 25,000 votes, the group is poised at #5. Other leading contestants include Twloha Inc., a suicide prevention organization (51,000+ votes), Invisible Children, Inc., which helps children in Uganda (45,000+ votes),  Bridge to Turkiye, serving economically disadvantaged Turkish children (27,400+ votes) and Isha Foundation, a non-secular organization that offers programs of yoga and meditation (27,000+ votes).

The 100 competing charities span 31 states and the range of services they offer includes supporting children and families battling diseases, providing help for the homeless, protecting the environment and aiding challenged communities.

The Friendship Circle is the only Jewish organization vying for the prize; it is also the only one of the front-runners dedicated to assisting special needs' children and their families.

Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov of Bloomfield, MI, founded the organization in 1994 when they noticed that what many special needs children lacked – after their schooling, therapy and special programs--was social interaction.

Now the $1.3-million organization pairs special needs' children and teens with teenage volunteers. In addition, the organization finds ways to provide a respite for families with special needs children.

"It's like walking into a giant hug," says Belinda Phillips, a parent benefiting from  The Friendship Circle.

“Spending time together does something amazing for both the special needs' kids and the volunteers,” says Sara Schechtman, program director for the Bloomfield, MI Friendship Circle who is helping spearhead the campaign to win $1 million. She said that Friendship Circle would use the prize money to expand the activity center--an interactive facility where special needs' kids learn life skills--as well as to train the 800 volunteers that serve in 70 plus Friendship Circles branches nationwide.

As the end of the competition nears, efforts to win the grand prize have reached a frenzy. Celebrities like Matisyahu and Ivanka Trump are promoting the vote for Friendship Circle, and last week 200 supporters staged a publicity stunt at a Pistons game.

“We did a group freeze – during halftime we froze for four minutes, and everybody wondered what was going on,” Schechtman said.  Then everyone took off their shirts to show a “Vote FC” (Friendship Circle) T-shirt underneath. “It was huge,” she said.

To vote for Friendship Circle in the Chase Community Giving Challenge, go to:

For more information on the contest go to

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