Denise Leary could see a difference in her son after he joined the Friendship Circle.”When he comes home, he’s relaxed, hungry and just happy,” Leary said. “He’s quick to scream, quick to fit, but after Friendship Circle, they all say he has a great time.”
Leary’s son Chris, 6, is autistic, as are other children at Friendship Circle. The Friendship Circle is an organization based in Mercer Island that works to provide social experiences for children with a range of special needs.
“The ingredient for the organization is about providing friendship,” said Friendship Circle supervisor Elazar Bogomilsky. “Whatever we have in a typical society in the way we celebrate things, birthdays, we want to be able to provide to these families as well.”
As a way to do this, the organization started Birthday Club, which essentially throws a conjoined birthday party for the children every few months. The first event was held at Pump It Up in Kirkland on Feb. 18.
“We get hundreds of donation requests a year,” said Andy Roberts, the Pump It Up owner. “It’s hard to pick and choose.”
Roberts said Friendship Circle’s work is in line with the other charities Pump It Up advocates for, so it wasn’t a hard choice.
“It just seemed to fit,” he said. “We try to help others where we can. This seemed to check a lot of the boxes.”
The Pump It Up franchise of 150 stores has worked closely with the National Autistic Organization throughout the years. One night a month they have a jump for special needs kids, as inflatables can be soothing play and it promotes the development of gross motor skills, Roberts said. But Roberts said opening up their space for another organization is pretty rare.
“We’d like to help where we can as a business but it’s hard sometimes because we can’t say yes to everybody, but this one fits,” Roberts said. “You have to pick some focus to help out with. Special needs and autism, this fits the bill.”
Bogomilsky said having the birthday parties at facilities such as Pump It Up is important because “many times these kids are excluded from typical, proper birthday environments.”
“It’s very powerful, this is something that’s so special for a kid that has special needs,” Bogomilsky said, noting that sometimes children will observe siblings talking about birthday parties and recognize they aren’t a part of it.
The Feb. 18 party included children whose birthdays were in January and February and Bogomilsky anticipates they will have about six more throughout the year for other children.
“It’s such a relief to have him play with kids and have a good time,” Leary said of Chris. “Chris loves birthday parties. It’s a fantastic organization and they’ve really helped us with the social piece with Chris.”
For more information on the Friendship Circle, visit www.friendshipcirclewa.org. For information on Pump It Up, visit www.pumpitupparty.com/kirkland-wa.