Monday May 21, 2007

Wellesley Friendly Aid Association

Samantha Fields and Maria Zade writer

On a sunny afternoon in early March, Henderson Hall is packed. The top floor of the Wellesley Community Center is playing host to a Wellesley Middle School Jazz Band concert organized by the Wellesley Service League. Susan Miao of the Wellesley Friendly Aid Association stands up to give a few words of welcome before passing the floor to Henry Platt, who introduces his band. The room is filled with students, parents and many senior citizens including eight women from Friendship Circle, a group that meets every Monday afternoon, October through May. This is not a typical meeting for the women of Friendship Circle, which usually meets on the first floor of the Friendly Aid building but this is one of their favorites, as they love the music and interaction with the talented teens.

The women of the Friendship Circle are a lively and eclectic group, many of whom have been living in Wellesley for over 50 years; it is open to women in town who are 65 and over. Today, though, one of the women, Barbara Seyfarth explains that she is in town from Chicago visiting her son and his family for a couple of weeks. Her daughter-in-law told her about the Friendship Circle, and she decided to check it out; she hasn’t thought about whether or not she’ll come back next week. “We certainly hope so!” Ann O'Kane, sitting next to her, exclaims. New members are always welcome, and the number of regular attendees varies from 10 to 20, depending on the time of year. The women have nothing but lavish praise for Friendship Circle Director Susan Miao and the smiling volunteers who drive them to and from their weekly meetings.

The Friendship Circle began as the “Circle of a Golden Age Group” in 1949, and its mission is to combat loneliness and keep older women involved in the community. It is just one of the programs offered by the Wellesley Friendly Aid Association. Established in 1899, Friendly Aid has been serving the Wellesley community for over 100 years. Executive Director Aida Devia leads a committed group of volunteers who dedicate their time to help the people of Wellesley in a variety of ways.
Residents who find themselves in financial distress, whether as a result of job loss, divorce or family emergency, can appeal to Friendly Aid for assistance. For some families, Devia explains, “They were well enough on their own six months ago, but now they need our help.” Through programs like the Wellesley Food Pantry, Meals-on-Wheels and Community Aid, Friendly Aid provides residents in need with food, prescriptions, winter clothing or other necessities they can’t afford at this particular time in their lives. In partnership with the Wellesley Service League, Friendly Aid also co-sponsors the Camp Program, which gives dozens of children, who otherwise would not have the opportunity to be able to attend camp, the opportunity to do so.
The Wellesley Friendly Aid Association is able to serve town residents thanks to the generosity of the Wellesley community. The group is entirely funded by annual donations from residents and local businesses. “Wellesley is a great town and the residents have big hearts,” says Devia. The donations received from the appeals letter sent out each September determine our yearly budget. “I just ask that the Wellesley residents and businesses that can afford to donate do, so we can continue to help those in need,” says Devia.

In addition to monetary donations from residents, the organization is thriving thanks to the commitment of its volunteers. “They’re wonderful!” exclaims Devia. “Without our volunteers we couldn’t continue our programs.” As with all Friendly Aid programs, volunteers are a critical part of the Friendship Circle that Miao runs; they call the women in the morning and offer rides to those who want them. “The ability to get out and stay involved is very important, it’s where you derive a sense of well-being and community,” Miao explains. Many of her women no longer drive, which greatly reduces their mobility. The Friendship Circle provides them with an opportunity to socialize and stay active, as well as a strong support system. Friendship Circle welcomes volunteers from the Wellesley Service League, the Wellesley Hills Junior Woman’s Club, local garden clubs, and other community organizations to provide programs, activities, or entertainment during the first hour, leaving the second hour free for tea, coffee and socializing. “We always leave with something,” the women laugh, “a plant, cookies. They give us doggie bags!”

The strong bonds that exist between the women are immediately evident – they tease each other and know each other’s stories. For the most part, these are friendships that have formed solely because of the Friendship Circle; most of the women do not see each other outside of the weekly meetings, they’re busy with other things. Several of the women audit classes at Wellesley College, sing in church choirs, volunteer at nursing homes, and continue to be active within the community. These are dynamic women, strong women, women, as Miao says, that you want to get to know.
For more information on Wellesley Friendly Aid and the Friendship Circle, you can go to their website, or contact Aida Devia, Executive Director, 219 Washington Street, Wellesley Hills, MA 02481. 781-235-3960.



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