Maryland families running to benefit children with special needs

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Reuben, right, and Eli Winston, members of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School cross-country team, will be running Jan. 24 in the Friendship Circle’s marathon in Miami. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Reuben, right, and Eli Winston, members of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School cross-country team, will be running Jan. 24 in the Friendship Circle’s marathon in Miami.
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Four members of the Winston family of Potomac are running — with some walking intermixed — a half-marathon in honor of Josh Rubin, a Potomac teen with special needs.

Josh, 15, and Reuben Winston, 17, have become great friends, thanks to their participation in Friendship Circle.


Friendship Circle is an international Jewish organization that pairs teenagers with children with special needs. The participants meet a minimum of one hour a week during the school year.

Each chapter is operated by its local Chabad Labavich Center. The Maryland chapter is one of the larger chapters.

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Chana Kaplan, co-director of Friendship Circle Maryland along with her husband, Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, said the goal of the organization is “to provide friendship and Judaism to people with special needs,” as well as teaching typical teenagers to “accept every person for who they are.”

The international organization has 11,000 teen volunteers and 5,000 special needs children. The Potomac-based Maryland chapter has 2,000 volunteers, who are in sixth grade and up, and about 100 families who have a child age 4 and older with special needs.


The organization oversees 40 matches a year, said Kaplan. Usually the volunteers and their buddies form a bond that lasts even after college.

Sometimes the bonds carry through to the entire family, as they have for the Winstons and Rubins.

Members of both families are participating in the Jan. 24 Team Friendship Miami 2016 marathon. They are part of a 24-member team from Maryland, said Dana Ginsburg, team coordinator. To participate, each runner must raise $3,250, some of which goes toward helping the runners with their airfare and hotel costs.  The rest helps support the Friendship Circle.

“The runners don’t have to pay much out of pocket,” said Ginsburg. The Maryland team has raised $80,000 so far.

In the Rubin family, both parents and three daughters will join the half-marathon, although “I’m not going to run. We are not a running family. We are walking,” said Josh’s mother, Nancy Rubin of Potomac.

Audrey Winston, Reuben’s mother, understands. As for Reuben’s enthusiasm and great success at running, “the running gene,” she said, is “an ultra-recessive gene. It didn’t come from us.”

The Rubins “have been involved in Friendship Circle for about eight or nine years,” said Nancy Rubin, who raised almost $9,000. Her daughters have volunteered with the organization.

“It’s really been a lifesaver for our daughters and our son,” Rubin said. She called it “critical” for children without special needs to spend time with those who do. “It teaches them tolerance.”

Through Friendship Circle, Josh has an activity every other Sunday, which takes place either at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington or at a nearby bowling alley or other activity center.

On Saturdays, he and Reuben play Monopoly, cards or basketball. But the bond goes beyond those activities. Reuben went with Josh’s family on the Rubins’ recent snow-tubing adventure.

“For Josh, it’s a friend,” said his mother. “It’s important for him to interact with mainstream kids.”

Both families attend Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac. Audrey Winston said her son enjoys the relationship with Josh and usually spends more than an hour a week with him. “They have just built a beautiful relationship.”

Reuben, a junior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, called his time with Josh “very meaningful,” adding, “I think of him as one of my best friends.”

The families have worked out a plan. During the marathon, Josh will be standing close to the finish line with his grandmother. When Reuben runs by, he “will grab Josh’s hand and they will run to the finish line together,” Audrey Winston said.

“It’s just a really, really sweet story.”

For information or to donate, go to miami.teamfriendship.org/Maryland

[email protected]
@SuzannePollak

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