Congressman Ted W. Lieu Secures $1 Million Grant for Friendship Foundation’s Inclusive Friendship Clubs

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Funding will help expand inclusive social, friendship clubs at K-12 schools, pairing intellectually and physically diverse students with neurotypical peers

I’m inspired by the work the Friendship Foundation and its volunteers do to ensure students with special needs feel heard, accepted, and welcomed.

Congressman Ted W. Lieu, local Manhattan Beach city, education and business leaders and Friendship Foundation leaders dating back to the first Club joined together to announce a $1 million Congressional Community Project Funding Grant to expand the Friendship Club program in K-12 schools. An instrumental advocate for the Friendship Clubs, Congressman Lieu presented the grant at the site of the very first club, Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, Feb. 16. The funding will help Friendship Foundation meet the needs and demands for more Friendship Clubs within schools in CA-District 36; create training materials and videos for student volunteers, staff and educators; increase social emotional wellness amongst students while decreasing bullying, social isolation and other mental health issues.

Sixteen years ago, the Friendship Foundation began when the first Friendship Club was created in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Eight students with developmental disabilities and 22 student volunteers convinced their high school principals to start inclusive social clubs on campus. The Clubs, developed and funded by the Friendship Foundation, were among the first of their kind to focus on the social aspect of inclusion within schools. They promote friendship and acceptance for students with special needs and their general education peers at no cost. Programs include social activities and games, art supplies, physical activity equipment, science materials, nutrition, and more. Children with special needs are paired with student volunteers to eat lunch, socialize, play games, engage in STEAM-inspired projects and attend school events as a group. Today, there are inclusive Friendship Clubs in schools throughout the greater South Bay area of L.A. (including Carson, Lakewood, Hawthorne & Wiseburn) and they’ve expanded to Bakersfield, Calif. plus chapters in Georgia, Alabama, Arizona for a total of 52 (and counting).

“I’m inspired by the work the Friendship Foundation and its volunteers do to ensure students with special needs feel heard, accepted, and welcomed,” said Congressman Lieu. “Through the Friendship Club program, students with special needs are buddied up with student volunteers to eat lunch, socialize, attend school events together, and more. As a result, students in special education forge real and lasting friendships and experience less bullying, fostering a healthier and happier school environment for them to learn and grow alongside their peers. I’m proud of what the Friendship Foundation has done for young people in the South Bay community and am honored to have secured this funding to help them further their mission.”

Almost 200,000 students are enrolled in special education in LA County alone and the demand for on campus inclusive activities is soaring. As a result of Friendship Clubs in schools, students in special education are seen and acknowledged, develop new friendships, experience less bullying and other abusive actions and neurotypical peers report the Clubs as being one of the highlights of their school experience.

"What started 16 years ago as a single Friendship Club bringing together neurodivergent and typical peers has expanded to 52 clubs today throughout Los Angeles and beyond," said Yossi Mintz, Friendship Foundation Co-Founder. "We're incredibly grateful for Congressman Lieu's support; this funding will go a long way in funding more clubs in the 36th Congressional District. The Friendship Clubs were the seeds planted that have now grown into a state-of-the-art 3.25-acre education and vocational Friendship Campus being constructed to help each and every person find a passion, learn practical job skills, and integrate in the greater community."

About Friendship Foundation
The Friendship Foundation is dedicated to building an integrated, accepting and unified community for our children and young adults. It was founded over 16 years ago by Yossi Mintz, Michael Greenberg, and Adam Carroll with the goal of providing neurodiverse children with those with varying abilities the same advantages as their peers to enjoy and experience life. The organization has developed programs that allow all children to play, grow, develop and thrive together. The success and growing demand from the Foundation’s existing programs have expanded the vision to include an innovative new Friendship Campus to help each and every person find a passion, learn practical job skills, and integrate in the greater community. Friendship clubs are offered at the elementary, middle, and high school level. If you are interested in learning more or starting a Friendship Club at your school, please email [ __title__ null] or call 310-214-6677. Follow Friendship Foundation at and

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Leasa Ireland