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  • Writer's pictureFriendship Circle International

More Than a Medal

We’re celebrating 10 years of friendship (Team Friendship, to be exact) with a 10-day throwback series!

Today, we’re diving into 2012, when things really started heating up. Although our groups in 2010 and 2011 had been small, the passion, drive, and warmth had been enough to turn them into avid Friendshippers, and word of Team Friendship spread quickly. That year, we saw exponential growth: we broke the 100-member record for the first time and organized 5 events. You could say we kinda came into ourselves that year. With 5 events, 108 athletes, 1,112 donors, and a total of $114,783 raised for friendship, we really raised the bar.

2012 was an important year… can you guess which event we hosted for the very first time?

Here’s a hint: it’s now our biggest annual event!

If you guessed the Miami Marathon, you guessed correctly! 2012 was our first time running with the Miami Marathon, and it was so epic that it instantly became a permanent addition to our repertoire. The real mastermind behind Miami was longtime TF alum Dana Ginsburg, who approached director Mendel Groner with the idea of taking friendship to Miami. We gave it a try and needless to say, it was a success!


These marathon runners are going for a different kind of gold

The year was 2011 and Potomac resident ​Dana Ginsburg​ had just run her first-ever marathon.

Shortly afterward, Dana was approached by the director of her local Friendship Circle chapter. “I know you run marathons,” she said. “How would you like to run the NYC marathon with our team in November to help raise money for children with special needs?"

That’s how Dana found herself running a second marathon in a matter of just a few months. It was a hit, and after running the NYC marathon with Team Friendship once again in 2013, Dana had an idea.

“The NYC marathon is great,” she told Friendship Circle director ​Mendel Groner​, “but have you considered the Miami Marathon? I think there’s some serious potential here.”

That’s how the now-renowned Team Friendship Miami Marathon experience was born. Nearly a decade later, Team Friendship’s annual Miami event boasts some 200-plus runners who participate in a fully-inclusive, weekend-long retreat that focuses on inclusivity and friendship.

Team Friendship Miami 2012

Some of Team Friendship Miami 2020

To Dana, who by now has run eleven full marathons, the Team Friendship Miami experience encompasses so much more than just one weekend.

“It's truly part of everything now,” she reflects. “I'm running for a purpose... My running isn't just about me anymore. I’m attached to a larger organization and I can see that I make a difference.”

Dana is referring to the work of Friendship Circle International, a global organization that (among other things) pairs teenaged volunteers with children with special needs. It’s a project that has personal meaning for the mom of three; all of her children volunteer with the Friendship Circle, including her 17-year-old daughter who has been a steady buddy to a sweet little girl for close to six years.

What’s interesting, muses Dana, is that the friendship doesn’t only benefit the two buddies but has expanded to include the rest of the family as well.

“We have a connection now through our daughters,” Dana says of fellow Team Friendship participant ​Noemi Garih​, whose daughter is buddies with Dana’s own. “I knew her before this but now, through our daughters, we have a Friendship Circle family.”

It's kind of cliche,” she laughs, “but I see it a lot in our community, actually—when there's a teen volunteer, the Friendship Circle creates that relationship.”

That’s not the only thing the two moms have in common: Noemi Garih is a key member of Dana’s yearly Team Friendship cohort, working tirelessly to bring the team to success.

Year after year, Dana heads to Miami with an ever-larger team from her home city. As team captain of the Maryland cohort, Dana leads her team in fundraising, raising awareness, and recruitment.​ While the marathon itself takes place in the winter, Dana’s work continues throughout the year. The team captain takes her role seriously, and the impact is obvious.

With the help of Garih and others, Dana gets creative: her crowning achievement is a yearly holiday boutique that features over thirty vendors, with all proceeds going to benefit the local Friendship Circle chapter. She also partners with local restaurants, bakeries, businesses, and fitness studios to raise funds and awareness for the cause and organizes walking groups, team outings, and more.

“It's part of who I am and I do whatever I can to help the community,” Dana says, and the words are more than just sentimental. “It's important for people to understand that the local chapters truly benefit from the money that we raise locally. I work really hard because our Friendship Circle chapter counts on these funds.

”As challenging as the day-to-day can be, Dana points out, at the end of the day it makes a bigger impact “than I can ever understand or witness.”

“It's perseverance that's driven by something greater,” she explains. “You're enabling children, teens, and young adults to gain services they might have never had, and enabling connections between people.”

The shared experience of joining Team Friendship Miami is a “really powerful connection within the community,” Dana notes. Aside from the actual, physical experience of traveling to Miami, running a marathon, and working toward a common goal, the cause itself is a key connector.

“This is an organization that not only helps the children and families that it serves, but alsocreates a bridge with the whole community,” says Dana. What the Friendship Circle really does is simple, but powerful. In Dana’s own words, “it makes the community a nicer place.” “It fosters a higher level of sensitivity. We’re a lot more inclusive, integrated, and aware,” she muses. “The Friendship Circle is really helping us bridge the gaps and teaching us how to build relationships without judgement.”

Nearly a decade ago, Dana set out to accomplish what most would consider a monumental achievement: to make it to the finish line of her first-ever marathon. Instead, she found herself at the starting line of something so much greater, and she’s never looked back.

Dana’s parting advice? “Know this: if you choose to get involved, you'll make a huge difference in your local community.” She would know: since the inception of Team Friendship Miami, Dana has recruited some 75 runners, bringing in over $140,000 in funds for the Friendship Circle of Maryland.

Was it worth it? “One hundred percent,” she agrees.

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