Nearly 20 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 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 and school.
Eliran Eliaz, PhD, RDT, 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.
Donna Carson has nearly thirty years of experience as a social
worker, both here in the United States and in England. As well
as attending at New York University and London University,
she also studied Family Therapy at the Tavistock Clinic. A
mother of five children, Ms. Carson is currently in private
Lauren Shore joined the Friendship Connection five years ago.
Lauren graduated from Queens College with a bachelors in
psychology. She obtained her graduate degree from Adelphi
University. Lauren worked as therapist at Rikers Island
Correctional Facility and at the Jamaica Hospital mental health
clinic, providing psycho-therapy services for children, adults
and families. Lauren currently works at Flushing Hospital
Medical Center in the out-patient obstetrics and gynecology
Board of Directors (in alphabetical order)
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.
Blattmachr, Betsy: Parent. 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.
Debehar, Jack: Parent and current treasurer of The Friendship Connection. He
is a civil engineer by training and for the past 25 years has been active in the
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
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.
Masone, Christine: Parent. Past President and current Co-President. Past
Special Education P.T.A. President and child advocate for a local school district in
Nassau County. She is a package supervisor for a domestic and international
shipping carrier. She has been an active member of the Friendship Connection
since its inception in 1989.
Oliveri, Florence: Parent. Past President and current Co-President she has
been involved with the Friendship Connection since her son became a member
over ten years ago. She and her husband currently reside in
Queens and are both active in their community.
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
The Friendship Connection Foundation, Inc.