Neither the threat of rain nor a torn tendon in his left foot could keep Michael Weiss away from the sixth annual , a Friendship Circle fundraiser that brought roughly 5,000 walkers to West Bloomfield Sunday afternoon.
Weiss, 13, of West Bloomfield, walked one mile with his mother Michelle and 25 other members of his team, made up of friends and family from as far away as California. Team Weiss raised more than $15,000 by asking for donations with Weiss’s Bar Mitzvah invitation card. That exceeded the team goal and was good for the fifth-highest-ranked team in terms of contributions.
“I keep telling him that he’s got to relax or he’ll never be able to dance at his party tonight,” Michelle Weiss joked, noting that Michael’s foot wasn’t in much pain.
The Weisses were just one of more than 90 teams from all over the state who came together in support of Friendship Circle by walking in either a one-mile or 5K trip around the Friendship Circle and towards the Co-director Bassie Shemtov described it as “another miracle day.”
“It gives (Friendship Circle) an incredible boost to know that the community supports us so strongly and showed it here today,” Shemtov said of the sixth annual walk. She said she expected to raise more than $500,000 to support the program, exceeding its 2010 record of $468,000. “People took on the Walk4Friendship as their own personal project, and that just means so much to me.”
Aaron Fotheringham was one such person who did just that, successfully performing a backflip from his wheelchair on a ramp after falling once. Shemtov said that the 19-year-old wheelchair athlete from Las Vegas was unhurt and that his spirit “truly personified what Friendship Circle is all about.”
“I’m just really happy to be able to perform here. It means a lot to me to be a part of a worthy cause like this and the kids are cool. One of them asked me to perform a backflip right here and I had to tell him, no, I need a ramp,” Fotheringham laughed before the stunt.
Matt Egrin was another who said that he accepted the Walk4Friendship as a “personal project.” The Huntington Woods resident raised $11,151, exceeding his personal goal of $10,000 to become a top-four-ranked individual donor. Egrin said that he personally benefited from Friendship Circle when his daughter, Kailey, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and used the program to make friends.
Egrin said that Kailey’s condition has improved to the point where she no longer participates in the Friendship Circle, but that he wouldn’t forget the program that she participated in.
“Ten people are going to walk with us today, but we have a lot more in the way of contributors who are going to walk with us today. It’s a cause I champion a lot because I think it’s worth it. It means the world to these kids,” Egrin said.
The top fundraisers were Joel and Debbie Pearlman of Huntington Woods, who collected more than $22,000, far exceeding their goal of $15,000. The Pearlmans promoted the cause through the corporation Jeff works for, ImageOne Productions of Oak Park, which Jeff said realized it was a very personal cause for the family.
“Everyone banned together to help and it’s incredible,” Jeff Pearlman said. “Friendship Circle is a really special cause to us as our daughter has autism and has been coming here for a few years now.”
“To know that people support you in that, as you can see all around here, just means the world to us. The energy around this place right now is incredible.”
Friendship Circle is a non-profit organization that provides programs and support to the families of individuals with special needs. For more information, visit its website.