Nearly 27 years ago, a group of parents here on Long Island founded the
Friendship Connection Foundation. These parents joined together in
response to the unique needs of people like their children—developmentally
delayed individuals who experience shyness, awkwardness in social situations,
rejection from peers and loneliness. With the help of a professional
therapist, the Friendship Connection was designed to offer a nurturing
environment where emotionally and socially immature people could develop
positive and healthy social skills and build lasting friendships.
The Friendship Connection Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit,
non-sectarian organization which provides social opportunities and social
learning experiences for adults who are developmentally delayed or have
learning disabilities. The program offers a nurturing and accepting
environment where friendships can develop and social maturity is fostered.
The ultimate goal of these activities and experiences is to
enrich the lives of the participants as they improve their
self-esteem and find greater confidence in their social interactions both
within the group and in their homes, work and school.
Eliran Eliaz, PhD, RDT, currently volunteering his services,
as a consultant, to the Friendship Connection, he began his tenure as
Executive Director of the Friendship Connection Foundation in 1993.
In addition to earning his PhD from New York University,
he has extensive experience training in Israel, England and
the United States. As a pioneer in the fields of Drama
Therapy and Behavioral Therapy, Dr. Eliaz has taught and published on
these subjects, and has applied his knowledge
to both children and adults in a variety of settings. He has developed
progressive programs for the Learning Disabled and is an expert in EEG
Biofeedback for Attention Deficit Disorder and related syndromes.
Dr. Eliaz has been practicing Psychotherapy since 1976.
Stephen Weitzman, received an M.S. in Education degree from Hofstra
University, an M.B.A. from N.Y.I.T. and an M.S.J.S. degree from Spertus
Institute in Chicago. He retired as a full-time classroom teacher from the
Smithtown School District on Long Island in 2004 and continues to
substitute teach in the district. In addition to Smithtown and Yeshiva Ch’san
Sofer in Brooklyn he has taught at Hofstra University, C.W. Post College,
Jersey City State College and Newark State College, been a teacher and
the Principal of a synagogue supplemental school and spent many years
teaching at summer camps in Massachusetts. He is the author of numerous
articles and blog posts on education, camping and synagogue management.
Haas, Mary, L.M.S.W. is licensed as a master in social work. She
graduated State University at Stony Brook, NY in 2001. She presently
works at, "Epic Long Island" and, "South Shore Child Guidance Centre" in
Freeport as a psychotherapist. She works with individuals, families, and
challenged individuals. Her priority at the, “Friendship Connection”, is to
value and self-worth of each member. She aims to foster a sense of
belonging; which, then inspires socialization.
Stein, Diana, Graduated with a B.A, from Hofstra University. She is an L.
M.S.W and received her degree in social work from Fordham University.
She previously worked at Steinway Child and Family Services as a
psychotherapist. She believes in the importance of encouraging others to
promote self-esteem.. Some of her hobbies include: Baking. Water Sports,
Reading and Theatre.
|Board of Directors
The directors, parents of members and a professional, are all volunteers.
Berent, Jonathan: L.C.S.W. He is the professional consultant to The Friendship
Connection. He has pioneered psychotherapy for social anxiety and is the author of
“Beyond Shyness: How to Conquer Social Anxieties” (Simon & Schuster.) He is the
director of www.socialanxiety.com.
Paluch, Indra: Current President and Parent. She is a labor management administrator
for a NYC agency and a board member for the agency suggestion program. Indra also
served as the Human Resources Administrator and advocates for the disabled at her
work location. She was the class parent for her sons in their schools and an active
soccer-basketball mom. Indra has been volunteering with The Friendship Connection
Blattmachr, Betsy: Parent and past President. She has been involved with The Friendship
Connection since 1990, when her son became a member, and she served as its board chair
for three years. She is a former high school English teacher, past president of the PTA of
the Center for Community Adjustment (BOCES), and a past board member of the Epilepsy
Foundation of Long Island.
Healy, James: Parent and past President, has been volunteering with The Friendship
Connection over ten years since his son become a member. He is a 30 year veteran,
retired New York City Firefighter, living in Baldwin, Long Island since 1973. He worked
with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Special Education PTA. He also ran for a seat on the
local school board.
Debehar, Jack: Parent and treasurer of The Friendship Connection. He is a civil engineer
by training and for the past 37 years has been active in the hospitality industry.
Gershowitz, Steve: Parent and current secretary of The Friendship Connection has
been volunteering since his daughter became a member in 2006. Steve is a Systems
Engineer specializing in large scale system integration. An active volunteer with the
Boy Scouts of America for over 25 years, former PAL and Little league baseball coach.
A native New Yorker residing in Wantagh for over 30 years.
Sklaroff, Fran: Parent of a Friendship Connection member who joined the group 18
years ago as a teenager. Fran is a former High School English teacher who has been
working as a nursery school teacher and a coordinator at the school’s summer camp for
preschoolers for 27 years. She participates in ongoing curriculum development for
the school. As a camp coordinator, she supervises and mentors junior counselors to
enable them to work with young children and understand the special needs of preschool
children at the summer camp.
Rusnak, Nina: is the newest member of the board. She grew up in Queens. She holds a B.A.
from Queens College and a J.D. from NYU school of Law. She worked for the Unified
Court System for 32 years and she presently is a Court Attorney - Referee in Bronx
Supreme Court. She volunteers for Courageous Cats Rescue. Her nephew Jeremy is a
member of Friendship Connection.