Good evening. My name is Stacy Goto. I am the mother of Sam Goto, a Friendship Circle participant and volunteer. It is an  honor to speak to you tonight about friendship, specifically the unconditional friendship provided by this organization to people who really need it and benefit from it. We all understand that friendship is not a luxury. It’s not the frosting or cherry on top. It is an essential part of a healthy society. Everyone needs a friend and everyone needs to be a friend; friendship is everyone’s responsibility. Friendship makes all of us stronger and better!

To begin, I want to thank all of you for your time and dedication to Team Friendship. Besides the time you’ve taken to fund raise, you’ve spent considerable time training for this event. I admire the dedication it takes to be able to run any distance longer than what I can run, which is only from my car into the store or my house when it’s freezing cold outside. You are not just marathon runners, you are marathon runners with a cause – Friendship – and for that I am truly grateful. Remember, friendship is not a luxury, it’s everyone’s responsibility. Friendship makes all of us stronger and better!

As a person with Koolen de Vries syndrome (KdVS) , Sam craves social situations. He loves being with people. As a young child with a disability, his peers were politely social but they never sought him out. No one called to say let’s play or meet me outside. At that point we saw the significant role a friend would play in Sam’s life, to no avail. By word of mouth, another parent heard of Sam’s need and shared her knowledge of the remarkable program called the Friendship Circle. Sam finally heard the unspoken words he craved to hear – not just one friend, but an entire circle of friends! Overjoyed, he (and I) eagerly joined the circle. Our Friendship Circle journey began there.

Sam met his first set of “friends at home” 12 years ago, two volunteers who made a weekly commitment to hang out with Sam, doing what Sam loved to do. Sam would wait at the window each week watching for his friends to arrive. He couldn’t wait to hang out with them. These weekly “play dates” were the highlight of his week. Once they graduated high school, Sam wanted to continue, so Friendship Circle found two more teens to come over. Over 8 years, he had 4 sets of “friends at home”. All of them were amazing friends. But what’s even more amazing is that he is still in contact with 5 of the volunteers, one in college and the others are out of school and working. These young men may have started out volunteering their friendship but now have become lifelong friends with Sam. We are so thankful for such amazing people. I believe that these young men have realized what an impact they have made on Sam’s life, and what a service to the community they have been. I also believe that through Sam they have come to appreciate the need to have a friend and to be a friend. They and Sam have become stronger and better because of this friendship.

Sam loves to help. The Friendship Circle staff not only recognized this skill but nurtured it. They had Sam work with a young boy who was non-verbal along with another volunteer. Sam took this responsibility seriously, making sure he attended every session, bringing music with him that he knew was this little boy’s favorite and singing to him when needed. Sam watched and learned from the other volunteers how to provide the unconditional friendship he had experienced. He learned from the Friendship Circle staff and the other volunteers that friendship is not a luxury, it’s everyone’s responsibility. Friendship makes all of us stronger and better.

A little over a year ago one of the staff, Liz Newman called to suggest that Sam fill out the application to become one of the presidents on the teen leadership board. This had never occurred to me. She assured me that he would be great at the job, which entailed regular meetings to help plan and organize Friendship Circle programs and events. Well, he’s definitely a good planner, very organized, 3 and would do anything to help out the Friendship Circle, so I asked him and he jumped at the chance. He was accepted into the leadership board with open arms and then admirably lived up to Liz’s expectations. I believe Sam is one of the most dedicated of all the teens and volunteered for as much as he could manage (and I could manage), from making calls and sending texts, to reminding the other teens of commitments, and posting flyers around town for upcoming  events. He also took it upon himself to contact previous teen leadership members who had gone off to college to help gather ideas for programs and events. He always shares the Friendship Circles’ posts on Facebook. Parents of other volunteers and participants have thanked Sam and us for his posts that keep them abreast of what is going on in Friendship Circle. He is so focused on Friendship Circle events and planning, in our house, we have given him the title of “Official Friendship Circle Nudger” . His resourcefulness and dedication to the organization has no bounds.

Friendship Circle benefits Sam in so many ways. It has taught him how to provide unconditional friendship to other children with disabilities. It has helped him to become more organized and responsible as a member of the teen leadership board. It has provided him lifelong friendships with the staff and some of the volunteers and their families. It has also benefited me, my husband and the rest of Sam’s family by providing so much support and encouragement. We are so thankful to have the Friendship Circle in our community.

Sam’s Story.

The support and friendships that Friendship Circle continues to give to Sam is reciprocated by his devotion to the organization. He wants to attend every meeting and volunteer for every event. You could say that friendship has come full circle for Sam who started and continues as a participant but is now also a dedicated volunteer paying it forward so others can benefit by the priceless gifts the Friendship Circle has to offer.

We all know that friendship is not a luxury. Everyone needs a friend and everyone needs to be a friend; friendship is everyone’s responsibility. So when you get to around mile 9 tomorrow, hot and sweaty and perhaps feeling run down, remember your strength. Remember Sam and the circle of friends that are cheering you on. You are not alone. You have a friend. A full circle of friends.