Montalto and Guttenberg families with The Friendship Journey members at their first fundraiser. {courtesy The Friendship Journey}

By: Jen Russon

The Friendship Journey continues its mission to bridge the gap between people of all cognitive and developmental abilities, encouraging friendships along the way.

Acknowledging the fabric of the organization as its participants and volunteers, President Samantha Novick described their upcoming gala held on September 14, as a way to honor their hard work.

That evening, the organization will hold its second annual event at the Parkland Golf & Country Club, and Novick said it’s not too late to purchase tickets or donate items for the silent auction.

At this year’s event, both Jennifer Montalto and Jennifer Guttenberg, mothers of Gina and Jaime, who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, are set to receive a special award for philanthropy carried out in the wake of unspeakable loss.

Novick explained that beyond their programs and events, they are committed to honoring the legacies of their forever friends, Gina and Jaime, by offering scholarships in their names to graduating participants and volunteers who embody the qualities the girls possessed. She said the Gina Rose Montalto Memorial Foundation and Orange Ribbons For Jaime do incredible and inclusive work in the community, and are the reason the mothers behind the scenes will receive the Inclusion Award at the gala.

Once called The Friendship Initiative, the nonprofit was founded by Jeb Niewood in 2011, and was led by him until last year when it was renamed. Niewood began his mission of joining together children with special needs with their neuro-typical peers when he created a sports program called Soccer Buddies in 2002. He then expanded that single program into year-round sports programming when he created Parkland Buddy Sports.

Donations and sponsorships help fund The Friendship Journey’s programs designed to encourage camaraderie, like Art Friends, Fit Friends, Reading Friends, and additional classes which introduce students to yoga and making music.

“We all have the ability to love, to participate in life’s joys, and to make friends. Our organization creates the space for such friendships to occur,” said Novick.

Tickets, sponsorship, and item donation information can be purchased at thefriendshipjourney.org. Click here to purchase an adult ticket for $125 (includes full open bar) or a volunteer ticket for $50. The gala will take place Saturday, September 14 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Parkland Golf & Country Club at 10001 Old Club Road.

Author Profile

Jen Russon
Jen Russon
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.