All About Friends Connect Foundation!

Friends Connect Foundation facilitates free socials where teens, both with and without special needs, can connect and spend time together!

Participants with special needs are assigned to at least one volunteer “Buddy” on the day of an event based on similar interests. The pairing process ensures that both kids will have a good time together and develop a natural friendship!

Friends Connect Foundation event categories include fitness, art, music, social and community service!

Friends Connect Foundation's Mission

Our mission is to provide social opportunities designed for individuals with special needs. Our age-appropriate programs assist participants in forming new friendships, improving their self-esteem and increasing their sense of belonging in the community.

Volunteers and Participants

Years in Operation

Events Held

Our Programs

Our age-appropriate programs include meaningful and enjoyable activities such as dance lessons, art classes, gardening, drum circle, cooking, field days, ice skating, robotics, board games and more

NOTE: The Facebook feed above includes only several of our upcoming events. Volunteers and participants with special needs MUST register in advance before attending Friends Connect Foundation events. To register as a volunteer or participant, please click the button to the right.

About Our Programs

  • We currently serve individuals with special needs between the ages of 12-21. With space permitting, we are able to accommodate participants who are older or younger than this range (please call 732-737-7354 to confirm availability prior to arriving). Our programs DO NOT serve a specific special needs group nor do they limit or control who we serve. Volunteers must be at least 11 years old; any volunteer younger than 15 years old must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Our volunteer training aids volunteers in understanding and becoming more aware of some of the particular challenges that accompany our participants’ special needs. This way, our volunteers are better prepared to be a host, guide and friend of their special needs participant.
  • All buddy pairs will engage in the same general activity at our events, however, each buddy pair is organized into one of several groups with modified instructions and difficulty-levels. As a result, individuals with or without restrictive needs are able to participate at all of our events!
  • Our participants are typically 12 to 21 years old and have developmental, physical, injury or illness-induced challenges such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, Dyslexia, Cystic Fibrosis, hearing or vision impairment, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries and cancer.

Learn More About Our Board of Directors and Volunteers

WHAT MAKES US UNIQUE

  • LONG TERM FRIENDSHIPS

    We focus on the formation of long-term friendships between individuals both with and without special needs.

  • DESIGNED FOR AN UNDERSERVED POPULATION

    Our programs are specifically designed for adolescents and teenagers with special needs between the ages of 12-21. With space permitting, we are able to accommodate participants who are older or younger than this range (please call 732-737-7354 to confirm availability).

  • PROGRAM EVALUATION

    Our programs are developed and evaluated by a panel of various community members including volunteers, parents, health professionals, educators and instructors with special needs certifications.

  • CUSTOM-BUILT PRIORITY SYSTEM

    As opposed to first-come, first-serve, we have a custom-built priority system that generates a roster of accepted participants based on the number of times a child has applied for, been accepted to, and attended events. This allows more participants with varying attendance histories to attend our events.

  • CONSISTENT SCHEDULE OF SERVICE HOURS

    Volunteers who have required community service hours can rely on our programs as a consistent community service opportunity.

  • ENJOYABLE & MEANINGFUL

    We develop meaningful and enjoyable programs from ideas suggested by our families, event evaluators and volunteers.

In The News

Synchesis Interview with Friends Connect Foundation: “The World Needs More Excitement”

“Everybody goes through periods of loneliness or bullying… and my personal mission is to make sure everyone feels like they have a place, that they’re included. Whether or not you have a disability, everyone should feel like they’re a part of something.” […]

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Friends Connect Foundation: Sophia Ziajski is a Middletown Community Builder

19 year old Sophia Ziaski is creating joy for so many local teens and young adults, with the non-profit, Friends Connect Foundation (FCF) […]

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Middletown North boys soccer team plays mini-golf with special needs kids

Members of the Middletown North boys varsity soccer team play mini-golf with the Friends Connect Foundation, a nonprofit run by Sophia Ziajski, 19, of Middletown, at TST BBQ & Mini Golf in Middletown […]

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NJ mini golf donates free fun for special needs kids every week

Finding things to do with kids who have autism or any other disability is often hard because of the looks, comments or sometimes outright hostility you get. So when a place out of the kindness of their heart sets aside a special time for families just like yours it needs to be commended and shared. […]

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Middletown teen establishes nonprofit Friends Connect Foundation

At 16, Sophia Ziajski had an idea. At 17, she founded an organization. Sophia is the founder of Friends Connect Foundation, an organization that provides friendship opportunities for individuals with special needs. […]

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Connecting Friends with Friends

A simple request from a friend transitioned into the inspiration to create a nonprofit the “Friends Connect Foundation”. […]

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Middletown teen’s group builds friendships for special needs kids

Last month, a new nonprofit organization was publicly introduced, hoping to fill the gaps in resources and services that may be inaccessible or inadequate for Monmouth County teens with special needs. […]

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Middletown Teen Saw Isolated Special-Needs Peers — and did Something About it

Filling a void for desperate families, 17-year-old Sophia Ziajski founded a nonprofit to foster friendships. […]

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Sophia Ziajski Helps Friends Connect

Typical teens make their social connections on Instagram or Snapchat. But Middletown resident Sophia Ziajski is nowhere near typical. At just 17, she founded the Friends Connect Foundation […]

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Be an Agent of Change

When Sophia learned that there were not enough activities for older special needs children, she set about a course of action to correct it. […]

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FCF on Front Page of Asbury Park Press Paper

FRESH off the press is our Founder, Sophia Ziajski, and her long-time friend and FCF participant Michael Frunzi on the FRONT page of today’s edition of The Asbury Park Press ! Check out our article by searching “special needs” at APP.com or clicking the link below! It’s a great read! https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.app.com/amp/870753002 […]

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What We’ve Been Up To!

Welcome to Friends Connect Foundation a New Jersey Nonprofit Corporation (NP) ! We’re so glad that you’ve come to learn more about our organization. Here’s the inside scoop on what we’ve been up to: – In April, our organization formed as an official business entity! Our organization’s name was approved ad Friends Connect Foundation a […]

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OUR STORY

Friends Connect Foundation evolved from a small social group founded in 2017 by a sixteen-year-old in Middletown, New Jersey. Our young founder, Sophia Ziajski, realized that her local teen peers with special needs continued to feel isolated, insecure and incapable of making friends despite the efforts being made to make society more supportive of these individuals. After researching local social opportunities, Sophia soon realized that many existing nonprofits and programs had long waitlists, were strictly sports-oriented, were not age-appropriate for teenagers, or did not assist in forming long-lasting friendships. There was a need for better integration and support for teenagers with special needs. Sophia then initiated a small social group that allowed for teens both, with and without special needs, to meet and spend time together. As interest in our program vastly increased, Friends Connect Foundation incorporated a New Jersey nonprofit corporation in Spring of 2018 to accommodate the increasing demand. FCF later became recognized by the IRS as a charitable 501(c)(3) organization in June 2018. Friends Connect Foundation’s mission is to provide social opportunities designed for individuals with special needs. Our age-appropriate programs assist participants in forming new friendships, improving their self-esteem and increasing their sense of belonging in the community. We believe that all of our volunteers and participants with special needs have the potential to create a lasting impact in the community, learn new skills, form new friendships and celebrate each other’s differences.

Michael had a great time!

Michael had a great time! On the ride home he said “friends” and had the biggest smile on his face that I have ever seen. The volunteers were enthusiastic and the activities were appropriate and fun. As a former special education teacher, I was very impressed with the ease with which everyone interacted with our children.

—Jodi (fitness program participant’s mother)