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Saturday, Apr 13, 2024

Building a Future Where Everyone Has a Place

The Friendship Foundation transforms lives one friendship at a time. Co-founded in 2007 by Yossi Mintz, it aims to provide children with special needs the same opportunities as their peers, fostering equal opportunity for thriving in the community. Michael Greenberg, president of Skechers and co-founder of the Foundation, emphasized, “Everyone deserves to be happy and enjoy a sense of belonging.”

It began with eight participants and 22 volunteers meeting on Sundays, engaging in activities, practicing social skills, and forging lasting friendships. Co-founder and executive director Yossi Mintz envisioned supporting children and families in every possible way, highlighting the importance of recognizing the unique gifts individuals possess.

“When I see someone with what you might look at it as a challenge, it’s not a challenge, that means they have a gift to give… let’s give them that opportunity to bring it out,” said Mintz.

IMPACTING THE FUTURE

The Foundation has grown significantly. It now operates Friendship Clubs in 74 schools across 22 school districts in the greater South Bay region of Los Angeles County. Over 2,500 students gather monthly to engage in activities and promote inclusivity on school campuses.

Additionally, the Foundation offers over 60 monthly adaptive programs catering to individuals aged 8-35+, spanning various areas including social and life skills, arts, athletics, and healthy living. The annual Summer Camp further fosters mentorship, exploration, and fun.

Student volunteers, as young as age 8, comprise almost 50 percent of the Foundation’s efforts, contributing to the inclusive environment and promoting social-emotional wellness for all.

THE FUTURE OF INCLUSION FOR ALL ABILITIES

The success and demand for inclusive programming have led to the vision of an innovative campus dedicated to empowering individuals with special needs. The Friendship Campus, a $55 million, 62,000 square foot facility designed by Gensler, aims to facilitate skill development, vocational training, and personal growth.

Participants will receive holistic training, enabling them to pursue careers aligned with their passions. The campus will bridge the gap between education and employment, fostering a more inclusive workforce.

A FUTURE IN WHICH THE BUSINESS WORLD RECOGNIZES THE POTENTIAL OF AN INCLUSIVE WORKFORCE

The campus will offer vocational pathway exploration, training, and work experience opportunities across many disciplines. The Foundation’s partnership with the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University will bring the extraordinary technology developed by Frist and Keivan Stassun, Ph.D. Employing individuals on the spectrum will take on a new meaning. Such individuals are incredibly talented and can become valuable long-term employees when trained, placed, and transitioned thoughtfully into the workforce.

WHAT’S INSIDE MATTERS MOST

The Friendship Campus will house state-of-the-art facilities, including a culinary institute, farm-to-table garden, and a 5,000-square-foot creative arts studio catering to diverse interests and talents.

The recreation center will be home to adaptive sports, teach physical fitness, host clinics, and provide an athletic gathering facility in the community. A financial empowerment curriculum will equip participants with essential life skills, preparing them for independence. Participants will be able to explore their dream careers, hone their skills, gain work experience on campus and in the workforce, and thrive in the community. Work readiness coaching, vocational counseling, and placement will prepare students for employment success.

The campus will serve as a hub for community engagement, offering a gathering place at the Friendship Café, event spaces, and recreational facilities for all ages and abilities. The multi-generational center will promote communication and activities for all ages and aid cognitive function, empathy, and overall well-being among the generations. The stunning rooftop terrace will encourage healthy living, wellness at work, and a landscape to gather for socials.

JOIN US IN CHANGING THE WORLD

The Friendship Campus will open in the Fall of 2025. To be a part of this miracle, please contact the executive director, Yossi Mintz, or myself. We are changing the world, one friendship at a time, please join us!

Kelly Stroman is managing director of the Friendship Foundation. To learn more, call (310) 214-6677 or email [email protected].

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