Caley Coughlin, 13, met Jeremy Alpern Cantor when she decided to volunteer with Friendship Circle about a year ago.
The organization works to pair teens with people with developmental disabilities to start friendships that tend to be uncommon in everyday life.
Caley, who had just celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, heard about the organization through a family friend. Friendship Circle trains teens to become accustomed to talking, sharing and communicating with those who have disabilities and then connects the students with partners in various programs, such as Friends at Home, a program for students ages 14 to 18 that challenges students to make home visits and play dates with people with disabilities.
Not quite the right age and experience level, Caley started with the organization’s Bowling Circle program to first cultivate some friendships.
“That’s where I met Jeremy,” Caley said, adding she was nervous after finding out Jeremy was bound to a wheelchair. “He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk and he couldn’t move his limbs. I was nervous because I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t expecting to be paired with someone who couldn’t talk or even roll his own ball.”
Though Jeremy had hardships, Caley could see his joy, she said. You could tell he was happy by the noises he would make, she added. That’s why it came as a surprise in February when Jeremy unexpectedly passed away.
“I saw him about two weeks before he passed,” Caley said. “It was really sudden because he seemed so healthy. He was about 41, but he was only supposed to live until 3 or 4.”
Recently, Caley was talking to Rochel Groner, program director at Friendship Circle’s Charlotte branch, about the Friends at Home program, which is based on donations and sponsorships and lasts through the school year, but funding is not available for summer mentor camps, Caley said.
That’s why she’s launching Jeremy’s Jump, a campaign in Cantor’s memory that will raise money to send disabled students and individuals to summer camp.
“Caley had this idea to launch this campaign in Jeremy’s memory. She is the driver on this one, but our whole community is excited,” said Bentzion Groner, executive director of Friendship Circle’s Charlotte branch, adding the jump-a-thon fundraiser is the first of its kind for the Charlotte branch.
So Caley got to work brainstorming ideas for fundraising, eventually deciding on a jump-a-thon. She nailed down the location for Sky High Sports in Pineville and then set the date for Nov. 24, a Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For every hour a participant jumps, sponsors will donate a pledged amount of money, Caley said.
But first, she’s looking for participants and sponsors to sign up. Soon, she’ll hold a recruiting circle, she said, sending messages to other volunteers with Friendship Circle to sign-up. She’s been working on fliers to hang up at her school, Jay M. Robinson Middle, and encouraging her friends to get involved, too. The marketing part, Caley said, is definitely the hardest part so far.
But it’s worth it, she added. She’s now working with the Friends at Home program and is paired with a friend named Josh, who loves baking and science experiments. But she credits her first experience with Cantor as the start to what she hopes are many more life-changing friendships.
“I learned a lot from Jeremy. I was hoping to teach him things, but he ended up teaching me things,” Caley said. “He taught me that you don’t have to speak to be heard. It’s not what you’re doing, but it’s who you’re doing it with and friends and family will always be there for you.”
To find out more about Jeremy’s Jump or how to get involved, visit www.jermeysjump.com.