Joshua Lampert isn’t your average 18-year-old senior.
He has a passion for musical theater, plays three instruments and writes music for each of them. He’s also spent the past five years volunteering to help children with mental or physical disabilities one hour at a time.
“For me, it is kind of a … really good feeling,” said Lampert of his involvement with , a program that works to include special-needs children in everyday activities. “I’m thankful that I got to spend time and connect with these kids. They have their problems but they’re still kids, they’re still people.”
Much of Lampert’s convictions come from his Judaic upbringing. He was taught that every person has a spirit full of passion and life, and that “each soul is as extraordinary as any other.”
Judaism also teaches the importance of mitzvahs, or the act of doing a good deed. Lampert recalls the constant message he received from his family, rabbi and people at school: Do one good deed a day, whether that’s helping someone you don’t know or simply helping out around the house.
The Friendship Circle gave him the opportunity to fulfill that goal, and he still remembers the day he was told about the program. He was 13 and Elisheva Green, the Circle’s executive director, approached him at the , with which the program is associated.
“She didn’t ask my mom; she came up to me,” said Lampert of that pivotal moment. “She gave me a responsibility that I never had before and that I like to have.”
And it’s quite a responsibility. The Friendship Circle pairs local teens to children with special needs for one hour every week. After a few training sessions that deal with worst-case scenarios while encouraging individual freedom, teens are sent out on house visits.
The pairs can also meet at parks or other places suggested by the parents should there be something of particular interest to their child. Whatever the case, Lampert says the time is strictly the child’s to do with as he or she pleases.
“If it’s during an event, I go around with them and usually ask them what they’d like to do or suggest things to do,” said Lampert, who follows the same routine at his current pairing’s home. “It’s playtime for him, and I’m here to be his friend. And I’m here to really push him to forget that he has his problem.”
Over the years Lampert has been paired with five children. Each has been memorable, but he says the one who holds a special place in his heart was a young autistic girl he took care of while hiking along Blue Sky trail. It was starting to get dark and the child, a little redhead around 3, was afraid.
Lampert, who was 15 at the time, says he knelt down beside her and told her she was strong and that he believed in her. The pep talk helped them complete the hike, but Lampert had no idea the lasting effect of his words until later.
“The next week, the mother she comes to me and she says, ‘You know, whatever you said to her really helped her out. I can see that she’s more confident about herself,’ ” Lampert recalled.
Throughout the year, the program will host holiday events at the synagogue, though Lampert says The Friendship Circle is open to any special-needs child seeking companionship and any volunteer willing to fill that role. The synagogue simply provides a safe venue.
“If I was a little kid going to (celebrate) Easter or something, it wouldn’t matter to me. … It’s more the atmosphere than having anything to do with religion,” he said.
And while Lampert may seem mature beyond his years, there’s a part of him that’s just as much a regular teenager as any other. When he isn’t figuring out which musical theater college to attend next fall, he’s playing video games or donning tactical gear for a combative―but, he insists, responsible―game of airsofting.
“My mom sometimes cringes at me seeing me in full military gear,” Lampert admitted.
But despite his weekend shenanigans, Lampert says he plans on fulfilling his weekly commitment at The Friendship Circle up to “the last day, till I go to college”―and picking it right back up again when he comes home to visit.
“The Friendship Circle is an amazing place,” he said. “I’m lucky to have been asked to serve time there. (My) time there has taught me all sorts of amazing things about myself that I never knew.”