Nearly 25 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
The Friendship Connection Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit,
non-sectarian organization which provides social opportunities
and social learning experiences for teens and young 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
Eliran Eliaz, PhD, RDT, currently volunteering his services 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.
Ashley Weitzman M.A. SLP-CCC has been volunteering with
Friendship Connection for the past 3 years. She studied
Communication Disorders at University of Central Florida and
received her Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology from
St. John’s University. She currently works at an all-girls
middle school in lower Manhattan as the Speech Pathologist.
Ashley has a passion for teaching social communication
Jamie Ruhl is a speech and language pathologist from
Westchester, NY. She studied communication disorders at
Iona College and earned her master’s degree from St. John's
University. She currently works as a speech pathologist
serving children at the elementary level. The majority of
her work focuses on individuals exhibiting developmental
delays. Her hobbies include: cooking, running, and reading.
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. She is a
class parent for her sons in their schools and an active soccer-basketball mom. Indra
has been volunteering with The Friendship Connection since 2005.
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 current treasurer of The Friendship Connection. He is a
civil engineer by training and for the past 30 years has been active in the hospitality
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.
Carpinone, Lisa: Parent, her daughter has been a member for 9 years. Legal Assistant
at a Garden City Law Firm. Current Secretary for the Family Association of the Center
for Developmental Disabilities Adult Division. She has been involved with Special
Ed PTA, Parent Advocacy and Parent Support Groups for children/adults with
developmental disabilities for over 20 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.
The Friendship Connection Foundation, Inc.