MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Nineteen year old Sophia Ziaski is creating joy for so many local teens and young adults, with the non-profit, Friends Connect Foundation (FCF), an organization Ziajski founded to provide free social opportunities and activities, for individuals with special needs. "Our programs assist participants in forming new friendships, improving their self-esteem and increasing their sense of belonging in the community," says Ziajski.
According to Ziajski, FCF often with community partners, helps teenagers with special needs build confidence, new friendships and an improved sense of belonging through fitness, self-expression, music and social activities such as dance lessons, reading with bunnies, art, gardening, cooking, field days, ice skating, community service, games and more. FCF also enables their many volunteers and board members to enrich their lives, by socializing with and often developing friendships with the special needs teens.
Recently FCF made a new community partner in the Leonardo section of Middletown: Charles Mule and his wife Joanne are the owners of TST BBQ & Mini Golf located on Route 36 in the Leonardo section of Middletown. The establishment features fun outdoor mini golf for the whole family to enjoy and plenty of outside seating for serving up great variety of classic BBQ foods and much more.
Charles Mule had seen a Facebook post where a mom was looking for company and activities for her teen with special needs. "I was reading through the comments and noticed how many parents in our community were dealing with similar issues." At the encouragement of many in the community on Facebook, Mule contacted Ziajski, who is known in the community for providing social opportunities for special needs youth and young adults. Mule almost immediately pledged 2 hours of mini golf every Tuesday morning for free so that teens and young adults with special needs can have a fun opportunity to make new friends.
WATCH: A message from Sophia Ziajski:
Ziajski commented, "Charles and his employees have been absolutely wonderful. They have hosted FCF for 3 sessions and we have two more coming up to register for online. At our first event, Mayor Tony Perry, attended and has promoted our partnership with TST BBQ with numerous social media posts. At our second event, Middletown High School North's Freshman, JV and Varsity teams lead by Coach Eric Morley generously offered to come volunteer. We had a turnout of 51 volunteers and 10 participants with special needs at that event that day!"
Ziajski added, "At each FCF event, volunteer “buddies” are paired with a special needs participant to be their host, guide and friend while helping them engage in modifiable activities. "We primarily serve residents of Monmouth County ages 12 through 21 years old and host events all year long. All participants and volunteers must register in advance at https://friendsconnectfoundation.org/register." Check the website for upcoming events. All activities are strictly following CDC pandemic guidelines.
Ziajski grew up in Middletown and graduated from Academy of Allied Health and Science in 2019. Now she is a rising sophomore at Drexel University's Pennoni Honors College and LeBow College of Business, studying finance. Ziajski, who also has her real-estate license, possesses the youth of a nineteen-year old with the self-confidence, professionalism, and knowledge of someone far beyond her years. “I was inspired to create Friends Connect Foundation after a friend asked for my advice about how to help her autistic brother who was having trouble making friends during his transition into middle school,” she said. Ziajski was inspired to make a difference. Visit their website here or call 732-737-7354 for more information.