FEATUREFebruary 2017

Changing the World, one Friendship at a Time


By Deborah Vietor


The Friendship Circle is a nonprofit organization located in San Diego dedicated to providing friendship and support to individuals and their families with special needs. The Friendship Circle enriches the lives of children and teens with special needs through activities, friendships and volunteerism with others to create a more inclusive environment.

There are a variety of programs created by the Friendship Circle to assist with inclusion, and that connect volunteers, and community member with a range of disabilities. Family events, weekend outings, adult programs, teen girls club, special classes, home hospitality, parent support groups and inclusion workshops are just some of the many programs that connect volunteers like Josh, a volunteer with Tourette’s Syndrome who enjoys music; with Michelle, 18. Michelle has Cerebral Palsy, cannot eat foods or even drink water, yet she plays the piano beautifully. The relationship between Josh and Michelle is just one of the many of the organization’s success stories.

This month, the organization will welcome Alan T. Brown, director of public impact for The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, at their annual fundraising event, February 12.

Twenty nine years ago, Brown became paralyzed while swimming in Martinique, broke his neck and literally saw a “white light.” Ironically, this accident occurred just two years after his best friend broke his back in a car accident and became paralyzed. Alan stayed by his side and became his caregiver at the time, and feels strongly to this day that providing outreach to families and individuals affected by paralysis is his life’s calling.

Through his work with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, he volunteers countless hours, helping in any way that he can. Although wheelchair bound, he is able to drive and use his arms, yet has challenges with movement in his hands.

“I wake up every day and try to leave my mark on the world, and never say never,” says Brown.

“I am an emergency room frequent flyer,” he jokes. “Technically, I am three people; my head is screwed on, my body is in the middle and there is my soul.” He has 11 screws, and 2 metal plates in his body after having his neck rebuilt.

Years ago, his health was touch and go and Brown asked the Rabbi what he would say at his funeral. The Rabbi replied, “He had the spirit to help others.”

A typical day for Brown includes being up at 6:15 a.m. to swim, and he does miles of hard cycling in the wheelchair daily. With some assistance from a nurse for dressing and other personal details, he meets with families, provides fundraising for the Foundation, and years ago, pledged to raise a minimum of $10,000 per year for spinal cord injuries. He is independent in most other ways, and works with four computer screens and two phones from a home office.

Brown shared that it is not the case for others with paralysis, as isolation and depression can become problematic. He works toward inclusion, raising awareness in the community and is a daily example to others with his own zest for life. Brown recommends to those with paralysis that they find something they are passionate about, and leads by example.

Through his work with the Foundation, he develops partnerships, connecting NFL players and celebrities with events, providing fundraising for research to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. Only two decades ago, people were not expected to recover from these types of injuries. Today, scientists are discovering activity-based exercise or training that can “remind the spinal cord how to step and stand again.”

The annual expense for treatment can be anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million, according to the University of Alabama National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is why the work of the Foundation is so important.

“There is hope,” says Brown. “Cures come in different shapes and sizes and a lot of us would like just not being in pain. Spinal cord injury does not discriminate. It’s not hereditary and there is no rhyme or reason. I cry every day over things which are not fair to someone else.”

All you can do is take a little time out of each day to try and help another person, he says, and it will make a world of difference.


On February 12, the annual Friends of Friendship Circle Dinner will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. This will be a special evening highlighting a sports night event with food, fun, raffles and more. The location is: 16934 Chabad Way in Poway. For more information, call (858) 487-4879 or contact Maxime Kayson, program and marketing director, at maxime@friendshipcirclesdsd.org. Visit friendshipcircle.com/gala/ to learn more.


For more information on the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, contact Alan Brown at abrown@christopherreeve.org or visit christopherreeve.org for more information.


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