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WORLD OPENS FOR SPECIAL KIDS.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

Every Sunday, Sarah Weisman and Jenny Silver knock on 9-year-old Jonah Felton's front door not knowing which little boy will answer.

Will it be the smiling, happy Jonah giving them hugs and kisses?

Or will it be the withdrawn Jonah telling them to go away, he doesn't want to see them and doesn't need or love them anymore.

On the bad Sundays, the harsh words don't hurt, the girls say. They know it's not Jonah talking, it's his autism. His disease. He's withdrawn into his own little world and he doesn't want any company.

But even on those days, the girls don't go away. They stay and they wait.

``We may just sit there for an hour while he reads and ignores us,'' 17-year-old Sarah says. ``He knows we're there, though. That's what matters.''

On the good Sundays, they all go play together in the park a few blocks from Robin and Jim Felton's Agoura Hills home. Or they bake cookies. Or learn in-line skating.

And when the hour is up and the girls get ready to leave, Jonah gives them a big hug and kiss and thanks them for coming.

On the good Sundays, the two Oak Park High School seniors say they drive home feeling like a million bucks. Like the two luckiest girls alive.

``In one hour a week, that little boy has taught us so much,'' Sarah says. ``He's given us a new appreciation for life and what true friendship is. An hour a week - that's nothing.''

No, an hour a week is a lot in The Friendship Circle, a nonprofit organization that pairs teenage volunteers with special-needs children.

If you have time, stop by the track at Agoura High School this Sunday and find out what some great kids can accomplish in one hour a week. That's when the group will hold its annual Walk-A-Thon.

You can meet 125 families from throughout the Conejo and west San Fernando valleys who have special-needs kids - and the 250 teenage volunteers who knock on their doors every week to be their friends.

``We've found that teens can reach special-needs children in ways that professionals, and even family members, cannot,'' says Rochel Bryski, director of The Friendship Circle.

Jonah's mom, Robin, has seen it firsthand in her own home. After more than a year of Sunday visits, the girls are like family now. But it took time.

Autism is a social disorder and there are plenty of days her little boy doesn't want any company.

``It took Jonah two months to know their names, and there was a lot of prompting and preparation,'' Robin said. ``Then one Sunday the front door opened and Jonah went running up to them, giving them both a hug.

``Those girls are like his big sisters now. They give him unconditional love.''

Even on the bad Sundays when the world is so overwhelming that Jonah yells at his new big sisters and tells them to go away, they never do.

``Some Sundays I look out the window and see them just sitting out on the driveway together, watching the clouds go by,'' Robin says.

It takes a special kind of teenager to make that commitment - to spend an hour every Sunday to bring a little sunshine and laughter into the life of a special-needs child, she says.

Maybe. But Sarah and Jenny don't see it that way.

They see a lot of other teenagers missing the boat by not becoming part of The Friendship Circle and having someone like Jonah teach them so much about life.

Good Sundays, bad Sundays. It doesn't matter, the girls say. They always leave Jonah's home feeling like a million bucks.

Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

WALK-A-THON

The Friendship Circle's annual Walk-A-Thon on Sunday will be held from 1-4 p.m. at Agoura High School, 28545 W. Driver Ave., Agoura Hills. For more information, go to www.friendshipwalk.org, or call (818) 865-2233.

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Photo:

Sarah Weisman, left, Jonah Felton, and Jenny Silver take part in a group hug during the teens' weekly visit to the Agoura Hills home of the 9-year-old who suffers from autism.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer

Box:

WALK-A-THON (see text)
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 23, 2006
Words:705
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