• Randy Dumalig

"The World Needs More Excitement": Our Interview with Friends Connect Foundation

“One of our participants absolutely loves The Wiggles — he knows every line of every episode. When you talk to him, he might say things like ‘Ahoy matey!’ and you’ll wonder who he’s talking to or what it means, but once you speak to him and his parents a little more, you realize that he’s actually doing something called scripting — using lines or phrases he’s heard before to establish a relationship with someone else. When you first meet someone, you notice physical differences, behavioral differences… but if you take the time to get to know someone, most of the time there are a lot more similarities.”

Sophia is a sophomore at Drexel University and the founder of Friends Connect Foundation, a New Jersey-based non-profit that hosts free social events for teenagers with special needs. “Everybody goes through periods of loneliness or bullying… and my personal mission is to make sure everyone feels like they have a place, that they’re included. Whether or not you have a disability, everyone should feel like they’re a part of something.” 

FCF hosted its first informal event when Sophia was only 16: “You go into it thinking you’re gonna make an impact on someone else’s life, but in reality, the volunteers end up getting more out of it than the kids. Seeing somebody beam with happiness is such a special feeling, and after that first event I knew I wanted to keep doing it. I wanted to show that you don’t need to do something just to get into college or to prove something to other people — this was something I really felt strongly about.”

“I think the world needs more excitement — one of our lines when we’re talking to our volunteers is ‘Get excited!’ Excitement is what enables us to find new passions and be open to new friendships. Speaking to the path that she and FCF have taken, Sophia emphasizes action: “It wasn’t like I sat down one day and said ‘Let’s start a non-profit.’ You don’t have to jump to the final product — people get intimidated by legal processes and fees, but the most important thing is to start and just do it.”

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